KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Frank Martin tried to warn his Kansas State team about what Baylor was capable of heading into the Big 12 Tournament.
The message didn’t get through.
He described the Bears as a group capable of leaving the Sprint Center with a trophy later this week and reaching the Final Four next month, but the Wildcats treated them as the underachivers they were much of the Big 12 season.
Baylor won 82-74 in the Big 12 quarterfinals, getting 31 points and 11 rebounds from forward Perry Jones. The Bears were better from start to finish and led by as many as 16 points.
It was one of the Wildcats’ least-competitive efforts. They didn’t see it coming.
“It surprised me, because it’s not only that time of year where we are playing our best basketball, but we beat these guys before,” said junior guard Martavious Irving, who scored nine points. “We know we can play with these guys. To lose like this is very disappointing.”
Unlike their regular-season meetings, which came down to a final possession with the road team winning both times, K-State never brought enough intensity.
Jones scored 21 points by halftime. K-State’s Jordan Henriquez refused to back down inside while scoring 22 points, grabbing 14 rebounds and blocking four shots, but no one else was able to contribute consistently.
K-State fell behind 45-36 at halftime and didn’t make a serious second-half push. Players said they came out flat. Martin said they didn’t play strong-enough defense.
“Today was a joke,” Martin said. “I mean, it was a joke. We were so bad defensively.”
Jamar Samuels, who looked as bad as anyone while failing to grab a rebound in 29 minutes, took much of the blame. The senior forward ended the regular season with back-to-back double-doubles and was one of the main reasons K-State knows it will make the NCAA Tournament.
But he was a non-factor Thursday. He struggled to keep up with the small lineup No. 12 Baylor (26-6) used, and never found success once the Bears switched to man-to-man.
“I thought we were destined to do a lot better than this,” Samuels said. “I waited to score most of my buckets at the end. That pretty much sums up my night. I didn’t come to play today.”
All the while, Jones played as if his NBA future was on the line. The preseason Big 12 Player of the Year shook off a mediocre season and dominated.
“I guess I was just in the zone today,” Jones said.
“I think he’s the best player in the nation,” said Baylor guard Pierre Jackson. “He showed it tonight.”
With Jones controlling things down low, Baylor looked like a different team. It moved the ball around and finished with 16 assists. Quincy Acy, Brady Heslip, A.J. Walton, Jackson and Jones III all scored in double figures.
K-State (21-10) tried to keep up with Rodney McGruder scoring 14 points and Angel Rodriguez adding 12, but it wasn’t nearly enough to stay with a confident opponent.
For the second straight year, K-State left the conference tournament without a victory.
“This is going to stick with me, coming in here again and losing in the first game,” Henriquez said. “My freshman year I played in the Big 12 championship. That was a huge experience. We’ve just got to get back to what we do best, which is rebounding, guarding the ball and playing K-State defense.”
If the Wildcats do that, and recapture the aggressive style they used to win four of their final five regular-season games, Martin likes their chances in the NCAA Tournament, where they will likely fall between a No. 8 and No. 10 seed.
He wasn’t upset after this loss. Could their defense have been better? Sure. But he wasn’t kidding about Baylor. When it plays the way it did Thursday, it is tough to beat.
He simply hopes K-State learns from it.
“It’s unfortunate,” Martin said. “You play the whole year to play your best basketball at this time of year and to eliminate immature behavior.… We’ve got one more loss. We better not do what we did today, or our season is over. That’s the sense of urgency our young team didn’t understand today.”