Kansas State may win another road game before the season ends, but good luck finding someone willing to bet on it following an 86-73 loss to Oklahoma on Saturday.
The Wildcats look miles away from solving their road woes.
Not only have they lost six straight away from Bramlage Coliseum, their struggles appear to be growing.
They lacked passion, energy and offense Saturday. Even their usually sturdy defense was poor. For the first time since their road losing streak began with a blowout defeat at Kansas, they failed to put up a fight.
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“By now, I’m not surprised,” K-State junior forward Thomas Gipson said. “I don’t know what we can do to get an away game.”
Take away a large, vocal Bramlage crowd that cheers their every move, and K-State is simply a different group.
Some will credit Oklahoma and its hot shooting – it made 51 percent of its shots and 10 three-pointers – for the lopsided result. Of course, it’s easy to score when you take one uncontested shot after another.
The Sooners (20-7, 9-5 Big 12) moved the ball with precision, and continually found open shots. The Wildcats (18-9, 8-6) tried guarding them man-to-man and mixing things up with a zone defense, but nothing seemed to work.
“They swung the ball well today,” said K-State freshman Marcus Foster, who scored a game-high 21 points. “They found the holes in our defense and knocked down open shots.”
Indeed, Oklahoma kept finding easy shots, often making them early in possessions.
Lon Kruger’s team is always at its best when that happens.
“We have been very competitive for the most part up until today,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “It happens to everybody … You run into a buzzsaw, that’s part of college basketball. I was hoping we would avoid it and we didn’t.”
Buddy Hield led the way for Oklahoma with 18 points, Isaiah Cousins added 17 points, and Cameron Clark had 11 points. But everyone seemed to chip in. Ten Sooners scored.
That was a far cry from when they played last month in Manhattan, where the Wildcats have won 14 straight. K-State frustrated Oklahoma with its defense that day, winning 72-66. But it had no answers in the rematch.
“We didn’t come out tough enough,” Weber said. “Once they got some easy baskets, they got into heat-check mode and they were making shots. Their switching bothered us the first time, but we were at home and we made enough plays to find a way to win that thing. This time we spotted them too many points.”
The Wildcats struggled on offense, too. The majority of Foster’s baskets came after the game was out of reach.
The Sooners took a 41-22 advantage into the half – K-State’s largest halftime deficit – and went on to lead by as many as 27.
Oklahoma’s dominance could be summed up in one first-half sequence, when Gipson tried to knock a loose ball to a teammate on the perimeter and ended up sending the ball sailing 15 feet into the stands. K-State players hung their heads. OU players laughed. The Sooners then scored five straight points to pull ahead 38-14.
Weber was clearly upset with his starters afterward. He left Gipson and Iwundu on the bench at the beginning of the second half. No one played more than 30 minutes.
“We needed everybody to play well if we are going to have any push,” Weber said. “We just have to have consistency.”
The only time K-State played with that was late, after Oklahoma eased up.
They had accomplished what they set out to do. With the win, the Sooners improved their hopes of finishing second in the Big 12.
“It was a really good win,” Kruger said. “Kansas State has been playing great and I know our guys have a ton of respect for them and realized that we had to play well if we wanted a chance to win.”
With the loss, the Wildcats are forced to bounce back against a difficult closing schedule. Their final two home games are against Iowa State and Baylor. Their final two road games are Texas Tech and Oklahoma State.
None of them will be easy, especially the away games. K-State hasn’t won one of those since the first week of January.
“When we are away, we don’t have life,” Gipson said. “It’s like we are dead out there. We have to find our own energy. It’s not lack of communication. We all know what we have to do. It just has to come from within … It all depends on us, and, right now, it isn’t looking good.”