Motivation is simple for D.J. Johnson at the moment.
The senior Kansas State forward is done focusing on the possibility of reaching the NCAA Tournament and he isn’t worried about the future of his beleaguered coach. His mind has zeroed in on one thing, and one thing only, as the Wildcats head to TCU for an 8 p.m. tip on Wednesday.
“More than anything, we are playing for each other in the locker room,” Johnson said Tuesday. “That’s what it’s all about. We don’t want to let each other down. We’ve been working together since the summer, pushing each other. It’s all about us as a team.”
Everyone on the Wildcats’ roster seems to have adopted that mindset coming off an 81-51 loss to Oklahoma on Saturday. The defeat dropped K-State to the edge of the NCAA Tournament conversation. It has lost eight of its last 10. One more loss, especially to TCU in what amounts to a bubble elimination game, and the Wildcats can stop dreaming about an at-large berth into the bracket.
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It was a difficult result to swallow, and no one knew how to react in its aftermath. But as days went by, K-State players found a way to come together.
“We play for K-State. We wear it on the front of our jerseys,” senior wing Wesley Iwundu said. “We just want to come out here and protect each other and do what we can to help each other.”
Sophomore guard Barry Brown has spent the past few days sending motivational texts to players. Anything to keep team spirits high.
Not even direct questions about the job status of coach Bruce Weber seemed to dampen their attitudes.
“That’s none of my concern,” Johnson said when asked if he was worried Weber wouldn’t be back next season. “We want to get these wins. My concern is how we are going to finish off conference play and then how we are going to play in the Big 12 Tournament.”
A trip to TCU presents on opportunity for K-State to bounce back. The Horned Frogs beat the Wildcats last month at Bramlage Coliseum, but they are on a five-game losing streak of their own.
The winner of this game will be in line to secure the No. 6 seed, and a first-round bye, at the Big 12 Tournament.
Weber thinks the effort will be there. He has advised players to erase the OU loss from their memories.
“Flush it all out, it’s over and done with,” Weber said. “We can’t control all the stuff that is around us. What we can control is who is on this (team) and who you care about and making sure we give it our all down the stretch.”
For Johnson, that shouldn’t be an issue.
“We’re still hungry,” Johnson said. “We still want to play. We know that the season is not over.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett
Kansas State at TCU
- When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
- Where: Schollmaier Arena, Fort Worth
- Records: KSU 17-12, 6-10 Big 12; TCU 17-12, 6-10
- Radio: 1480-AM, 102.5-FM, 107.9-FM
- TV: ESPNU
Kansas State (17-12, 6-10): The Wildcats are still considered a bubble team but their NCAA Tournament hopes are fading fast now that they have lost 8 of 10. K-State is coming off its most demoralizing loss of the bunch, an 81-51 hammering at the hands of last-place Oklahoma. Turning things around at this late stage won’t be easy, but a few victories could get Weber’s team back in the postseason mix.
TCU (17-12, 6-10): These teams could be brothers. Both got off to promising starts and appeared on their way to the NCAA Tournament. Then losing streaks knocked them into the NIT picture. The Horned Frogs have lost five straight and 9 of 12. They pushed West Virginia until the end of their last game, but couldn’t finish things out. Brodziansky has been one of the biggest surprises in the conference. He is one of the Big 12’s most productive post players.
RPIs as of Tuesday: K-State 68, TCU 60.