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K-State tries again to end road struggles

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, Feb. 24, 2014, at 5:08 p.m.

Photos

Kansas State at Texas Tech

When: 6 p.m. Tuesday

Where: United Spirit Arena, Lubbock, Texas

Records: KSU 18-9, 8-6 Big 12; Tech 13-14, 5-9

Radio: KQAM, 1480-AM; KWLS, 107.9-FM

TV: ESPN2

Kansas State at Texas Tech

PKansas StateHt.Yr. PtsReb
FThomas Gipson6-7Jr.11.76.4
FWesley Iwundu6-7Fr.6.54.0
GWill Spradling6-2Sr.8.13.3
GMarcus Foster6-2Fr.15.23.5
GNino Williams6-5Jr.6.43.3
Texas Tech
FDejan Kravic7-0Sr.6.74.4
FJordan TolbertJr.11.16.0
FJaye Crockett6-4Sr.14.36.6
GToddrick Gotcher6-4So.7.43.0
GRobert Turner6-3Jr.9.82.5

Kansas State (18-9, 8-6): The Wildcats have won 14 straight at home and lost six straight on the road. K-State’s road woes seem to revolve around defense. At home, the Wildcats guard teams with energy and play games at their own pace. On the road, they can’t match that intensity and play games on their opponents’ terms. Southwell returned to the playing rotation against Oklahoma and could play a bigger role against Texas Tech. K-State hasn’t lost to Texas Tech since 2008.

Texas Tech (13-14, 5-9): The Red Raiders have improved dramatically under first-year coach Tubby Smith. After years of winning a game or two in conference play, they are 5-9 with victories over Oklahoma, Baylor and Oklahoma State. They even played Kansas to the final possession last week. Crockett is the player who makes Texas Tech go, but Tolbert has also been strong this season. Texas Tech likes to make teams work on defense, regularly taking longer than 20 seconds to take a shot. Texas Tech is 10-5 at home.

RPIs as of Friday: K-State 42, Tech 118.

Kansas State is about to enter the home stretch of its basketball season.

One more game until March. Four more games until the Big 12 Tournament. After that, nothing is guaranteed. It will all be over before you know it.

The Wildcats want to make the most of their remaining time together, so a 6 p.m. tip against Texas Tech on Tuesday at United Spirit Arena will carry added meaning.

A victory would end a six-game road losing streak and solidify their NCAA Tournament hopes as they turn their focus to future games against Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Baylor. A loss would leave them in the same position they have been fighting to escape for two months.

“The last four games are going to be big for us,” K-State freshman guard Marcus Foster said. “They are all against teams that are really, really good. Right now we have a lot of good wins, but as our resume shows we can’t get it done on the road. The tournament is based on neutral sites, so we really have to get these last four wins.”

That won’t be easy. Texas Tech is no longer a pushover. With first-year coach Tubby Smith, the Red Raiders have the look of an up-and-coming team, especially at home.

In years past, K-State has taken the floor at United Spirit Arena and seen mostly empty red seats. That won’t be the case this time. Attendance is on the rise, so much so that the school is making a push for 10,000 students to attend Tuesday’s game. Anyone who shows up will receive free food and listen to music from a DJ. They will also be eligible for prizes up to $10,000.

That could make Lubbock an even harder place to play than it has been this season. Texas Tech is 10-5 at home with victories over Oklahoma State and Baylor, and a one-point loss against Kansas.

“It’s just a matter of putting a good product out there,” Smith said. “You have to put a good team on the floor. That’s a product of playing hard and working hard. It’s a process. You have to reach out to the fans as best you can and get them fired up about the direction of the program. Our staff has done a good job of promoting and marketing our games.”

K-State has been dominant at home, winning 14 straight. If the pattern continues, the Wildcats (18-9, 8-6 Big 12) will split their final four games. Second-year coach Bruce Weber thinks that will be enough to lock up a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

He also thinks “it would be nice” to get “some road wins down the stretch.”

“It’s going to be hard,” added junior forward Thomas Gipson. “We can end up in the top three or four or we can end up in the bottom half of the league. It all depends on us, and right now it isn’t looking good.”

K-State can fix some of its road problems with better defense.

Though its defense ranks first in the Big 12, allowing 64.1 points, it has allowed 81 or more points in its last four road losses.

Texas Tech, which averages 70.6 points and prefers to slow things down, may offer an easier matchup.

But the Wildcats also know they need to carry a different attitude into the home stretch.

“We feel like we are overdue for a road win, so it’s hurting us right now,” Foster said. “We have still got two more road games, so we just want to go 2-0 on the road to finish off Big 12 play.”

Reach Kellis Robinett at krobinett@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @kellisrobinett.

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