Home losses used to be rare for Kansas State.
From the time Bob Huggins was hired as basketball coach in 2006 to the time Bruce Weber last guided K-State to the NCAA Tournament in 2014, the Wildcats defended Bramlage Coliseum like a fortress, going 115-19 over eight seasons. An .858 home winning percentage ranked among the nation’s best, and the Octagon of Doom nickname gained traction.
Now, as K-State prepares for Wednesday’s game against Oklahoma State, things are different.
Winning at home is no longer the expectation. It’s merely the hope. K-State has lost three straight at Bramlage Coliseum for the second straight season, dropping its home record to 34-13 (.708) over the past three years. The Wildcats lost consecutive home games once under former coach Frank Martin. They are now in danger of losing four straight home games for the first time since 2000, when they lost five under Tom Asbury.
“We shouldn’t have as many losses as we do at home, especially in a row,” K-State guard Barry Brown said. “It’s really bad right now. We are trying to do different things to come out with a different start and win the home games.”
Creating a home-court advantage might be the key to K-State’s NCAA Tournament hopes. The Wildcats have played surprisingly well on the road, beating No. 9 Baylor, Texas, Oklahoma State and Saint Louis in true away games, as well as Colorado State and Boston College on neutral courts. Combine that with a home record from the Octagon of Doom days, and they would be a postseason lock.
Instead, they have gone 10-4 at Bramlage with losses to Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas and TCU. They are on the bubble.
This month has been particularly strange. K-State has gone 2-1 on the road and 0-3 at home.
“We carry a different mentality when we play on the road than we do at home,” senior Wesley Iwundu said. “We are too comfortable at home and it shows in the beginning of games. We are taking a different approach to this game, because we have to win this.”
Protecting Bramlage has become the team’s battle cry.
“Luckily, we have been winning games on the road,” Iwundu said. “But winning games at home is just as important. We have to come out on top of our game and ready to play.”
There are many reasons K-State has struggled at home.
Slow starts have been the biggest culprit. K-State fell behind by double-digits against Iowa State and TCU before mounting failed comeback attempts. Against Baylor and Kansas, two top-10 teams, the Wildcats led in the second half but couldn’t hold on.
Perhaps Weber has placed too much emphasis on road games and taken home success for granted.
“It’s something I brought up to our coaches and might have said it to the guys,” Weber said. “One of our things was we haven’t won many road games.”
Home attendance has remained solid. K-State played in front of capacity crowds against Baylor, Kansas and West Virginia. But there were open seats for weekday games against unranked opponents.
In an attempt to boost attendance against Oklahoma State, K-State is giving away wrestling masks and cookies to the first 1,000 students. Weber is also paying for a pregame tailgate and a $500 scholarship giveaway.
Weber is hoping for a good crowd. More than anything, though, he is hoping K-State players treat it like a road game.
“We have got to bring that road anxiety, that road nervousness,” Weber said. “I don’t know which word is the right word, where you are locked in and ready to play, because you are worried you might get your butt kicked. But that’s what we need, because the other team has it.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett
Oklahoma State at Kansas State
- When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
- Where: Bramlage Coliseum, Manhattan
- Records: OSU 18-9, 7-7 Big 12; KSU 17-10, 6-8
- Radio: 1480-AM, 102.5-FM, 107.9-FM
- TV: ESPNU
Oklahoma State (18-9, 7-7): The Cowboys have turned things around dramatically since they last played the Wildcats last month. K-State beat Oklahoma State 96-88 and handed the Cowboys their sixth straight loss. They have been the hottest team in the league since, winning 8 of 9. They have taken advantage of a soft stretch in the schedule to make a NCAA Tournament push. Evans has really turned it on and is among the conference’s leading scorers.
Kansas State (17-10, 6-8): This is an important game for Weber and for K-State’s NCAA Tournament hopes. A victory would give Weber a season sweep against Underwood, a fan favorite some wanted to replace him last season, and give the Wildcats the inside track to the No. 5 seed at the conference tournament. K-State defeated Oklahoma State at Gallagher-Iba Arena last month behind balanced scoring, led by Brown’s 22.
RPIs as of Tuesday: OSU 29, K-State 55.