MANHATTAN — Kansas State's basketball game against North Florida on Sunday at Bramlage Coliseum was supposed to be an easy opportunity for the Wildcats to bounce back from their first loss of the season.
It turned out to be the most stressful game of the year.
K-State rallied from nine points down in the second half to defeat the Ospreys 79-68, but nothing about the victory came easily. If not for Martavious Irving finding Will Spradling in the corner for an open three with 18.8 seconds remaining in regulation, the Wildcats would own a two-game losing streak today.
Spradling's shot went in, and a driving layup from Jimmy Williams at the buzzer sent the game to extra minutes instead of giving North Florida the win, but that's about the only positive K-State coach Frank Martin and his players were able to take away from this ugly effort.
"We were completely disinterested today, and couldn't make any shots," Martin said. "It's hard to win that way. That needs to change or we're not going to be any good. We were interested a month ago. Unfortunately we've been on a little bit of a slide here."
That slide turned into the Wildcats looking lazy and playing poorly in front of the smallest crowd of the season until Jerron Granberry hit a three to put North Florida ahead 49-40 and Martin called a timeout with 8 minutes, 30 seconds remaining.
They outplayed the Ospreys the rest of the way, and dominated the overtime period with a drastic change in energy level, but Martin is never satisfied with his team giving maximum effort for only portions of a game.
"I've always heard these people talk about when you turn the lights on I'll be ready to go. That's hogwash is what that is," Martin said. "People that are good do their job every day. That's what we have built our program on. We have a little immaturity on our team. Our leadership has to get better and I have to do a better job of guiding those young kids who are trying to lead."
Until that happens K-State will struggle to break out of its habit of playing down to its competition. The Wildcats have faced five mid-major opponents at home, and only defeated one of them soundly.
And North Florida (5-5) left Bramlage Coliseum disappointed in its effort.
"We should have won the game," North Florida coach Matthew Driscoll said. "I made several errors that I regret."
Freshman forward Thomas Gipson, arguably the team's best player at the moment, led K-State to victory by scoring a game-high 23 points and grabbing 12 rebounds.
K-State made 28 of 72 shots from the field, two of 15 from three-point range and committed 19 turnovers. Jamar Samuels and Will Spradling each scored 12 points and Rodney McGruder added 10.
Samuels played 27 minutes despite never facing foul trouble, and Martin put three freshmen on the floor at the start of K-State's second-half push.
"We've got a lot of selfishness," Martin said."... That has to change. If it doesn't change, we'll be a very average team."
K-State (6-1) will try to improve in that area before it plays its next game against Alabama on Saturday at the Sprint Center.
Spradling plans on reminding his teammates of Sunday's game for motivation.
"We had 'em. At the beginning of the game we jumped on them 12-2, and then we just let them right back in it," Spradling. "When we get up like that we need to just bury teams. Once we get leads we like to relax and let teams back in the game. We can't be doing that, especially when Big 12 comes. If we do that, we're going to be the team getting buried."