MANHATTAN — When Omari Lawrence made a three-pointer in the final minutes of Kansas State’s 65-53 victory over TCU, everything about Bramlage Coliseum felt normal.
The Wildcats were leading by 15 points, TCU coach Trent Johnson was calling a timeout and the student section was dancing while “Sandstorm” boomed throughout the arena.
K-State was on its way to a comfortable win over last-place TCU, the only team in the Big 12 without a conference victory. Just like everyone expected.
Though the final score may not show it, this game was in doubt most of the way.
“It’s disappointing in some ways, but also kind of what you expected,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “We had three emotional games in a row against Texas, Kansas and the overtime loss at Baylor. No matter what we say, you’re probably not going to come out with great energy and focus.”
K-State had neither in the first half. It made mistake after mistake — 13 turnovers and an air-balled layup — and took a 27-26 lead into the break. Many of the errors were unforced, including a turnover in which Nigel Johnson heaved a pass up court to an unsuspecting Marcus Foster. He barely touched the ball on its way out of bounds.
Things didn’t improve for the Wildcats in the early going of the second half, and the score was tied at 42 with 12:52 remaining.
With a smaller-than-usual crowd on hand, the arena felt dead and the Wildcats looked deflated. They weren’t sprinting to an effortless victory the way they have so often during their 14-game home winning streak, which ties the Bramlage Coliseum record.
“We had a lot of (mistakes) that were unforced. We were throwing the ball to people who weren’t looking,” senior guard Will Spradling said. “The ball was going through hands. That is something we don’t normally do and something that comes with being prepared and ready to play.”
“Our intensity wasn’t there,” added junior forward Thomas Gipson. “In the second half we got things together.”
Still, TCU looked like the better team at times. Behind a game-high 23 points from guard Kyan Anderson and a surprisingly effective zone defense, which forced 18 turnovers, it played one of its best games.
K-State jumped out to an 11-2 lead, but the Horned Frogs controlled the middle of the game. For a while, it looked like they would push the Wildcats until the end.
But K-State made enough plays to survive.
Most of them came in the rebounding department. The Wildcats snatched 18 offensive boards and outrebounded the Horned Frogs 47-24.
“That’s huge,” Weber said. “That is probably something that has cost us when we have lost games.… That gives you a lot more possessions. On a night when we had a lot of turnovers, we got some of those back.”
Gipson led the way with 16 points and 11 rebounds, Marcus Foster had 13 points, Nino Williams scored 11 points and Will Spradling had 10 points.
D.J. Johnson contributed with four points and eight rebounds. And freshman point guard Jevon Thomas helped Spradling provide stronger defense on Anderson in the second half.
Combined, those efforts were too much for TCU to stay close.
“It sounds like a broken record. We just got worn down. They wore us down in the post,” Johnson said. “We were right there with about 30 minutes to go, then the ball wouldn’t go down for us and we couldn’t keep them off the glass.”
The game opened up from there.
With the win, K-State (18-8, 8-5 Big 12) will now focus on important upcoming road games against Oklahoma and Texas Tech. Those opponents will both undoubtedly offer more of a challenge than TCU (9-16, 0-13).
Of course, a narrow victory over a struggling opponent is better than the alternative.
“We just didn’t want it to happen to us,” Weber said. “Give the credit to these guys. They played with a little more energy and a little more urgency. We regrouped and got a win.”