Bruce Weber took one final look at the stat sheet and sighed.
It was moments after a 71-70 loss to Texas and the Kansas State coach was struggling to explain how the Wildcats let another game slip away. The words never came. Weber thought they played hard, avoided turnovers and grabbed loose balls, doing everything he asked of them. Yet they walked away with a loss. He was baffled.
“We won everything but the game,” Weber said.
Outplaying No. 25 Texas (18-10, 9-6 Big 12) in several areas meant little to K-State players when the final buzzer sounded. They needed a win, not another moral victory. This is a team that had the look of a potential NCAA Tournament team little more than two weeks ago, fresh off a victory over then-No. 1 Oklahoma. Today, their NIT prospects appear shaky.
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K-State (15-13, 4-11) has lost four of five since upsetting Oklahoma, with three of the losses coming at home and the other on the road to struggling Oklahoma State. The lone victory was at last-place TCU.
“It’s a tough loss, man,” said junior forward D.J. Johnson after scoring 16 points. “Same song.”
“I am definitely mad,” added senior guard Justin Edwards, who had 20 points, eight rebounds and five assists. “It is kind of a heartbreaker, because for most of the game we really played hard and we really wanted it.”
Desire wasn’t the issue. Isaiah Taylor was.
It’s easy to see why Texas hands the ball to him when it needs clutch points.
Taylor, a junior guard, was a monster throughout the second half, making one enormous play after the next on his way to 19 points. When the game tightened up, he directed the offense, often creating off the dribble and making an off-balance shot. His biggest basket may have been a three in the final minute to give Texas a 69-65 lead.
“I know that when I have a one-on-one opportunity a lot of teams load to the ball,” Taylor said. “When they load to the ball, they really just have to choose their poison … I just rose up and fortunately, it went in.”
He was the difference in this one. K-State got the Longhorns’ frontcourt into foul trouble, and elite shot-blocker Prince Ibeh fouled out with 4:01 remaining. That helped the Wildcats win the rebounding battle 36-27. They also took care of the ball, losing five turnovers.
But none of that was enough to overcome the lack of a go-to scorer.
“We don’t have a guy like that,” Weber said. “We need experience. We need a little more seasoning.”
While Texas knew where to go in important moments, K-State hesitated. That was most evident on the final possession when the Wildcats had an opportunity to win at the buzzer.
Barry Brown brought the ball up court and passed to freshman Dean Wade on the wing. Wade was coming off a ball screen and had an open look, but he didn’t take it. Instead, he faked a shot and looked to pass. Johnson had a mismatch inside against Texas freshman guard Kerwin Roach, but Johnson originally asked for an entry pass on the other side of the paint. By the time he moved in front of Wade, his advantage was less obvious.
With Johnson covered, Wade looked to a cutting Wesley Iwundu on the base line, but he was also blocked. Eventually, Wade launched a three that missed short.
Edwards curiously was never in position to touch the ball. He has now scored in double figures in six straight games.
Still, Weber said the play went according to plan and he expected Wade to make the shot. Wade has been up-and-down lately, and passed up several shots Monday. But he scored eight points in the second half and his confidence appeared on the rise.
“I don’t think it was a bad shot at all,” Edwards said. “I am happy he took that shot. I think it was a great shot. He probably makes that shot eight out of 10 times every time in practice.”
“It was a great shot,” Weber said. “Next time, he will make that shot, and he will make a bunch of them before his career is over.”
Texas controlled things most of the way, taking a 38-35 halftime lead on a three from Kendal Yancy and never trailing in the second half. It led by as many as eight, but the Wildcats made a push behind Edwards, Johnson and Wesley Iwundu, who scored 12 points.
They did a lot of things well. It simply wasn’t enough.
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett