MANHATTAN — Given Texas Tech’s status as the only team in the Big 12 without a conference victory, no one expected its basketball game with Kansas State on Tuesday night to be a thriller.
Still, few could have predicted it being as dull as it was.
At one point in the first half of K-State’s 65-46 victory, the home crowd turned to sarcasm to stay entertained. With both teams deadlocked in a five-plus minute scoring drought, fans were desperate to see the ball go through the net. So when Jordan Henriquez stepped up to the foul line and made the first of two free throws with 6:56 to go before the break, the student section erupted with applause.
It was one of the loudest cheers of the night, but K-State coach Frank Martin didn’t need to hear it to know things were going poorly. He saw the warning signs much earlier.
“The assistants came in after warm ups and they said, ‘We’re just giving you a heads up, this might not be very fun tonight. There’s just no enthusiasm out there,’ ” Martin said. “That’s how we played.”
Indeed, before Henriquez made his crowd-pleasing free throws, the Wildcats and Red Raiders were slogging their way through a sloppy game. Neither team had success shooting the ball, and K-State had trouble adding to a 13-8 lead it took less than 8 minutes in.
Texas Tech was unable to get open shots, while K-State seemed befuddled by a zone defense. It was a sloppy combination that produced some ugly numbers. The Red Raiders made 28.9 percent of their shots and the Wildcats made 30 percent.
“Offensively, it was just watching guys walk around,” Martin said. “… They went triangle-and-two here and we decided to not run our offense. Guys played one-on-one. They didn’t do what they are supposed to do.
“They take two guys away, everyone stands around and looks at the guy with the ball. You take bad shots, you don’t rebound it, you don’t post it, you don’t cut the triangle … that’s on me.”
But K-State (17-6, 6-5 Big 12) proved it was the superior team by finding a way to make up for all the misses. It attacked the rim, got to the foul line and was able to take a 31-17 halftime lead and pull away from there. By game’s end, it made 30 of 40 free throws, with Will Spradling scoring all 10 of his points off foul shots.
It also suffocated the Red Raiders (7-16, 0-11) with a consistent, strong defensive effort. K-State forced 22 turnovers and held Texas Tech to the fifth-fewest points allowed by the program in a Big 12 game.
“I thought we had a great chance to win the game,” Texas Tech coach Billy Gillispie said. “We just turned the ball over too much.”
“The one thing I was excited about was I thought our zone defense was pretty good,” Martin said.
That excitement didn’t extend to offense, though. Much like its first win over Texas Tech last month, the Wildcats relied on their bench for scoring. Sophomore guard Shane Southwell scored a season-high 13 points and Adrian Diaz had seven. Rodney McGruder scored 10.
That helped them take a 25-point lead in the second half and empty their bench. But no one walked away too happy.
“We just get real inconsistent,” Southwell said. “It’s real frustrating, because we know we can play a lot better. We’re a real good team. We can be one of the best teams in the Big 12.”
Up next is a key stretch of games, which starts on Saturday at Texas, then moves into matchups with top-10 opponents Kansas, Baylor and Missouri.
Allowing Texas Tech to pull within 10 points in the final minutes behind 15 points from Luke Adams, and playing with little energy from start to finish is not the way Martin hoped his team would enter that stretch.
“I’m disappointed that with eight games left in our season that we can show up and not be enthusiastic about playing,” Martin said. “It’s late in the year. All we’ve done for the last few days is talk about how it’s too late in the year to take a step back. Every step we take has to be forward here, because the season doesn’t get easier. It gets harder.”