MANHATTAN — Moving on from a loss is hard.
Moving on from a last-second loss on the road is harder.
Moving on from a last-second loss on the road with a trip to Hilton Coliseum up next is difficult on an entirely different level.
The Big 12 is filled with challenging road swings, and Kansas State is in the middle of its hardest one of the season. A 4-1 start to conference play moved the No. 22 Wildcats up the league standings, but a 67-64 loss at Texas dropped them into a jumbled tie for second. A victory at No. 16 Iowa State on Saturday would be important for many reasons. A loss would be damaging.
K-State understands the game will be pressure-packed. But it doesn’t seem to mind the challenge of going from one difficult road environment to another.
“I think it is good for us,” associate head coach Chris Lowery said. “You don’t want to wait a long time to play. I think that will be to our advantage. They have had a week to get ready for us, but we are coming off a defeat where we feel like we should have won or at least gone into overtime. Getting right back at it is the best thing for us.”
The Wildcats are certainly motivated. They feel like they gave away the Texas game. Sure, Jonathan Holmes made a fantastic three-pointer with the game on the line, but K-State thought it would have held a late lead if not for mistakes they spotted after watching replays.
Missed layups and lapses on defense, which is normally the team’s biggest strength, were the main culprits. Those errors are correctable.
“We are handling it pretty good. We are still sad we lost, but we just have to move forward,” junior forward Thomas Gipson said. “We still have to be 1-0 in every other game we play. Practice was good we didn’t really harp on it. We saw the mistakes we made on offense and defense and we corrected them.”
Will that be enough to take down Iowa State? The Cyclones haven’t lost at home to anyone other than Kansas since 2012. They are 8-1 at Hilton Coliseum this season, with victories over Michigan, Iowa and Baylor.
“The crowd will probably be crazy,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “We are going to have to be extra special to go there and see if we can get a win.”
The Cyclones will also be motivated. It wasn’t long ago that they were the toast of the Big 12. A 14-0 start pushed them into the top 10. They had the look of a Big 12 championship contender. Today they are under .500 in league play. They are eager to end a three-game losing streak.
Three-point shooting has oddly been Iowa State’s downfall. But the Cyclones are one of the best shooting teams in the nation. DeAndre Kane, Melvin Ejim, Dustin Hogue and Georges Niang all average more than 12 points. Misses can’t persist much longer. Can they?
“It’s only two games that the ball hasn’t gone in the basket,” Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg told the Des Moines Register. “You don’t change your form. You don’t start doing something you haven’t done your whole life. We’ll get it right.”
Defending the perimeter will likely be one of K-State’s top priorities on Saturday. It will be an interesting matchup.
Iowa State leads the Big 12 with nearly nine three-pointers a game. K-State tops the Big 12 by allowing less than five a game.
Of course, Iowa State is also skilled at driving to the basket and rebounding. Gipson, in particular, will have his hands full with Niang. Gipson hasn’t defended a center like him, capable of making threes and posting up.
K-State will need to be ready for anything, including setting up transition offense.
“We want to impose our will on them,” Lowery said. “If we can transition from defense to offense quick than I think we need to do that, because their bench is not long and they have shown to be foul prone. We have got to change the pace to where we feel like we have an advantage.
“We have got to make them guard us and focus on getting the ball inside. We know we are going to get double teamed but we need to focus on getting the ball out, try and get a reverse and then go from there. They don’t transition very well. They run downhill on offense and uphill on defense. We just need to make sure they don’t rebound.”
That won’t be easy. Nothing about playing at Hilton Coliseum is. But it’s the challenge K-State will soon face.
“You have to find a way to win some road games,” Weber said. “Last year we were 6-3 on the road. We already have two losses here on the road early. It’s a tough, uphill battle. We just have to keep getting better and remember that it is a long season.