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Friday, July 18, 2014

Wildcats fall into familiar Lawrence trap

BY RUSTIN DODD
Kansas City Star

LAWRENCE — It felt almost hauntingly familiar, like so many other Kansas State games inside the creaky old walls of Allen Fieldhouse. What else could K-State do?

There was the early wave, with Kansas charging out of the gates behind an explosive crowd. There was the comeback, with K-State weathering the early knocks and displaying a measure of grit while cutting the lead to three in the second half. And there was the end, the same old end, with KU pulling away and K-State left gutted and deflated.

On Wednesday night, in front of 16,300 hostile fans, K-State's fate played out, chapter by chapter.

KU 67, K-State 49.

"In 27 years," K-State coach Frank Martin said, "including coaching 13-year-olds, I've never been a part of a game where our team got its tail whupped in the physical part of the game the way we did today."

Martin, of course, could offer statistical proof for his honest take: The Wildcats had been outrebounded 50-26, and Martin had dropped to 0-5 in his career at Allen Fieldhouse. But perhaps there was also a feeling, an instinctive feeling, that said this one loss felt like all the rest.

By the time the night was over, Martin led the Wildcats on a slow walk through the tunnel, heads down, past a patch of screaming KU fans. That's happened before, too.

"It was a complete mismatch," Martin said.

All week, Martin had preached the same message to his team: The game would be won or lost in the first 10 minutes. And the Wildcats would need to fight, survive, do whatever it took.

"That was our whole philosophy coming into this game," said sophomore guard Will Spradling, who finished with five points and five assists.

But for Martin and K-State, the game began like so many other horror-filled nights in Lawrence. It could have been 2007 or 2008 or 2010. The template was the same: Missed shots. Turnovers. A packed house upping the decibel level whenever the deficit grew.

With 17:09 left in the first half, Spradling made a jumper to trim KU's lead to 5-3. What unfolded over the next nine minutes was plucked straight from Martin's Worst-Case Scenario Guidebook.

Three missed jump shots. A turnover. A missed layup. A missed three-pointer. Turnover. Another missed jumper. And so on.

"I almost called a timeout when we were up 1-0," Martin joked. "I was so excited we had a one-point lead in the first half."

By the time Martavious Irving's jumper dropped through the net with just more than eight minutes left in the half, the Wildcats trailed 23-7 and had made two of their last 12 shots.

"You put 16,000 people in there," Martin said, "there's not an open seat in the building; it's hard. And when you got some young guys, like we have, they get wrapped up in that emotion. They can't overcome that.

"It's a heck of a lesson for every player that ever plays in this building."

The Wildcats shot a season-low 27 percent in the first half. And K-State, which grabbed 12 boards in the first half, owned two more rebounds than KU's Thomas Robinson before halftime.

But Martin's Allen Fieldhouse stories rarely end with K-State folding. And the Wildcats opened the second half on a 16-4 run, cutting KU's lead to 39-36. Right on cue: K-State surrendered two back-breaking three-pointers to KU senior Connor Teahan, and the momentum was suddenly dead.

"The scouting report says, 'Do not leave Connor Teahan when he's in the corner,' " Martin said. "And we left him twice."

It was a harsh and gentle lesson for the Wildcats. Gentle because they have 17 conference games remaining, still plenty of time to recover. But harsh because it happened again, against a rival, in the same building.

"We came out the same way we did last year," Spradling said. "And that hurt us a lot."

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