Bob Lutz

Bob Lutz: Marcus Foster needs to exit doghouse to help Kansas State

Kansas State guard Marcus Foster, left, spent 26 of the game’s 40 minutes on the bench Saturday at Oklahoma State.
Kansas State guard Marcus Foster, left, spent 26 of the game’s 40 minutes on the bench Saturday at Oklahoma State. The Wichita Eagle

STILLWATER, Okla. – Sophomore guard Marcus Foster, Kansas State’s leading scorer and best player, did not start for the Wildcats on Saturday against Oklahoma State, which used a second-half flurry to beat K-State 61-47. In the 14 minutes Foster played, he missed the four shots he took, had no assists and no rebounds.

Where Foster goes from here is anybody’s guess including his coach’s, Bruce Weber.

Asked whether Foster would use the benching and the sparse minutes – from not only Saturday but during the second half of Wednesday’s Georgia game — as positive motivation, Weber seemed as unsure about where this is headed as the rest of us.

“I hope so,” said the K-State coach, in his third season. “He has no other way to go, does he? I don’t think he made a basket today so hopefully it goes in a positive direction. He’s a good player, he just has to push himself every day in practice like everybody else.”

Tom Gilbert, K-State’s men’s basketball media relations director, declined to make Foster available for interviews. So we’ll have to rely on Foster’s body language during the game, which was telling.

He stood on the outskirts of the team huddle during timeouts and showed little emotion, even as K-State fought to take a two-point halftime lead.

After being taken out of the game with nearly 10 minutes remaining in the first half, Foster circled behind the K-State bench near some water containers and shook his head as OSU’s Phil Forte made a long three-pointer.

The 6-foot-3 Foster, one of the country’s best freshmen last season when he averaged 15.5 points, has scored two points in the Wildcats’ past two games. And nobody saw this apparent disconnect coming, except perhaps Weber and Foster.

Obviously, the coach isn’t happy with how the player is producing in practice, let alone games. And this is a strong message being delivered to a franchise player.

It’s fair to question whether Weber has enough credibility with K-State’s fan base to be supported in this move. Time will tell, I suppose. If Foster comes around and starts to meet Weber’s demands, this situation could help the Wildcats.

It’s up to Foster.

“He’s going through a little bit of a non-confidence period,” Weber said of his preseason All-Big 12 guard. “It’s not all about points, either. We need his points, obviously, because we don’t have that many guys who can go and get us baskets. It’s all about wanting to compete and play hard and that’s what we’re asking all of our guys to do. We didn’t get that from the start of the season in practice and now it’s caught up with us.”

Weber called the past week for Kansas State “a disaster.” No one would dispute that.

It started with an improbable loss to Texas Southern, which scored six points in the final 3.8 seconds (you had to see it to believe it) to win 58-56. Then came a 50-46 loss to Georgia at Bramlage Coliseum in which the Wildcats scored only 12 points, compared to 16 turnovers, in the first half.

Now this – a loss in the Big 12 opener and the Foster drama.

Foster was so good against Purdue and Arizona in the Maui Invitational in late November. In a win over the Boilermakers, he made 9 of 14 shots, including 5 of 8 three-pointers, and scored 24 points.

In a tight 72-68 loss to then-No. 3 Arizona, Foster had 23 points, made 7 of 14 shots and was 6 of 9 from the three-point line. It appeared Foster was going to exceed everyone’s already-high expectations.

But he hasn’t been able to equal those performances since. And after playing 30-plus minutes in 7 of 9 games, Foster has spent 40 minutes on the bench in the past two games.

Foster has been settling for more three-point shots this season. Nearly 62 percent of his attempts have been from beyond the line compared to 48 percent last season. Lately, he hasn’t been as complete a player as Weber obviously wants. Only once has Foster had more than four rebounds and he’s had more than two assists only four times.

Even so, it was a bold move by Weber to bench his best player in the conference opener. Sending a message is easy. Getting the right result is tricky. Foster certainly didn’t give off the vibe Saturday that he’s going to take the benching to heart and come back with a vengeance.

But senior forward Thomas Gipson, who has also endured difficult times this season, said he’s confident Foster will come through this.

“I just tell him to try and stay focused and don’t let the outside things influence how you play,” Gipson said. “He just has to keep playing and have good practices and he’ll be OK.”

Every K-State basketball fan hopes Gipson is right. Foster’s benching, though, is a troubling sign.

Reach Bob Lutz at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @boblutz.

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