LAWRENCE — Coming into Saturday's action at Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas State's main point of emphasis was clear.
The Wildcats wanted to start strong.
It may have sounded obvious and cliche, but they stressed it all week. If they had any hopes of pulling an upset of No. 6 Kansas, they knew they couldn't fall behind early.
It’s something Frank Martin's teams have struggled with every time they've made the trip east to play the Jayhawks since he took over as coach in 2007. And every one of those games followed an unfriendly pattern. Kansas raced to an early lead, K-State used all its energy to fight back and make things interesting for a few brief moments in the second half, and then Kansas pulled away for good.
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Saturday's game took a slightly different path, but Kansas handed K-State its most lopsided loss of the season, 90-66, in large part because it raced to an early 15-2 lead and held a 25-9 advantage midway through the first half.
"It's something that you try to prepare for," senior guard Jacob Pullen said. "But at the same time, it's something that always seems like it happens when you walk in this building. They usually don't miss in the beginning; they capitalize off your turnovers, and your bad shotsæ.æ.æ. it happened to us again."
The Jayhawks dominated the early stages in all areas, and the Wildcats responded by doing little right. They turned the ball over at a rapid pace, appeared rattled by the sellout crowd of 16,300 and made three of their first 18 shots. Things were nastiest behind the three-point line, where they made one of their first 12.
"Obviously," Martin said, "what we did today was just bad."
K-State's offensive futility was underlined by the performance of its starting lineup. Jamar Samuels, Curtis Kelly, Shane Southwell, Rodney McGruder and Pullen combined to score 13 points in the first half.
They routinely got the ball in good places near the basket and took good shots, but the ball rarely made them. Samuels and Kelly both missed shots they normally dunk with ease.
Martin said the Wildcats didn't respond to the Jayhawks' defensive pressure, and that turned into unforced errors.
"I didn't feel that we were playing very well offensively," Martin said. "I thought we got wide-open threes, we didn't make them. Once again we had point-blank shots at the rim and we can't make them. If you can't score at the rim, it's hard to win."
If not for little-used guards Devon Peterson and Juevol Myles coming off the bench to score the Wildcats' final five points of the first half, the Wildcats would have been in even worse trouble.
As it stood, Kansas kept pushing and took a 37-20 lead into halftime.
K-State played with more confidence and drained a few shots in the second half to pull as close as 58-42 with 11 minutes, 29 seconds remaining, but the Wildcats' push wasn't nearly enough.
Kansas responded with a 14-1 run and never looked back.
"We got off to an 18-0 lead on them here a couple years ago and they came back and cut it to three," KU coach Bill Self said. "I told our guys on the bench, 'Hey, this same thing happened a couple years ago,' but we were able to keep them at arm's length and control the game. That was different than it has been in the past."
For K-State, it felt all too familiar.