SUNRISE, Fla. — For Kansas State basketball coach Frank Martin, the worst thing about the Wildcats' 57-44 loss to Florida at BankAtlantic Center was that he could see it coming.
All season, he has called his team immature and lamented the way it has failed to play up to its potential. For reasons he can't fully explain, K-State has been outrebounded by smaller opponents, lost its killer instinct at odd times and earned many of its nine wins in closer-than-expected fashion.
At some point, Martin knew those nagging problems would catch up with the Wildcats. On Saturday, they finally ran into a team strong enough to take advantage.
"We've been playing with fire as a team," Martin said, "and today we dealt with the fire first hand and got burned."
That may be an understatement. Sixth-ranked K-State left south Florida charred and embarrassed following its worst offensive showing since scoring 42 points against Nebraska in 2006.
The Wildcats missed 40 of 55 shots, suffered through a stretch of 13 minutes, 9 seconds without a made field goal and allowed an early 12-2 lead and 23-20 halftime edge to turn into an uncompetitive, double-digit loss.
When it was over, senior guard Jacob Pullen, who needed 17 shots to score a game-high 19 points, described the defeat as one of the worst in his career.
"It's tough," Pullen said. "This game, we were up. We were in control of the game for a whole half. Starting the second half we were in control. We really just blew it."
His frustration was understandable.
It took Florida more than 7 minutes to score its first point, and when Erving Walker finally made a jumper to get the Gators on the board with 12:59 remaining in the first half, the crowd of 13,489 cheered sarcastically.
K-State (9-2) was more than willing to cash in on Florida's (8-2) early offensive woes, and increased its defensive intensity with every miss. At halftime, the Gators had attempted a measly 18 shots, and coach Billy Donovan said it felt like the Wildcats were on their way to a neutral-court victory.
"You look at the stat sheet and you'd think we'd be down 20," Donovan said.
But Florida finished the half on an 18-11 run while K-State sputtered to the break. It misfired on its final five shots of the first half and first 13 of the second.
After its initial push, K-State made 10 field goals the rest of the way.
"We started missing shots and it broke our spirit," Martin said. "It broke our spirit defensively, it broke our spirit offensively. Then, instead of continuing to do the things we were talking about, we got to the point where we just held the basketball and didn't pass it. When we do that it gets us in trouble."
Still, the situation might not have been so bad if K-State had some type of inside presence. A flurry of missed shots normally leads to a large number of rebounds, but that wasn't the case against Florida. Only small forward Rodney McGruder, with nine rebounds, was a factor. Starters Curtis Kelly and Freddy Asprilla combined to score five points and grab five rebounds.
All the while, Florida was finding its offensive rhythm behind Kenny Boynton (two three-pointers, 15 points), grabbing 35 rebounds and stepping up its defensive pressure to take its first lead of the game at 24-23 early in the second half.
It blitzed the Wildcats the rest of the way and earned an easy come-from behind victory.
"It was hard to watch," Martin said.
So much so, that at times he appeared disinterested on the bench. Late in the game, Pullen threw his arms into the air in disgust after a missed shot and glanced to Martin for some advice. But Martin had none to offer. He simply stared out into space.
He was already thinking about how to address his team in the locker room — K-State faces a quick turnaround and plays UNLV on Tuesday at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.
"We've been taking a lot of things for granted, because we were still figuring out a way to win games," Martin said. "Well, you could see it coming. How we handle this one today — are we willing to learn lessons, are we willing to move forward because we lost now — is this going to make us more mature? That's what we're going to find out."