AUSTIN, Texas — Kansas State’s program, under the direction of Frank Martin, has been molded and built on the Wildcats being the tougher team — the one that attacks the basket, gets to the foul line, defends and rebounds. When an opponent makes a run and throws a punch, K-State punches back.
But when the Wildcats got backed into a corner against Texas, they were unable to fight their way out of it — didn’t have the ability to punch back, and because of it, they saw a 15-point second-half lead turn into a 75-64 loss to the Longhorns on Saturday afternoon at the Frank Erwin Center.
“They came out in the second half and they punched us in the mouth,” Martin said. “They punched us again, and again and again. They got us on the ropes and we never punched back.”
Boxing terms fit the bill for this one. K-State, which fell to 17-7 overall, won the opening bout, but Texas won the most important round — the final one.
The Longhorns outscored K-State 48-24 in the game’s final 20 minutes, and in doing so, did what K-State usually does to its opponents.
Texas went at the basket, shooting 28 free throws to the Wildcats’ zero in the second half. The Longhorns made 35-of-48 from the foul line in the game, while K-State converted 8-of-12 from the charity stripe.
Texas scored on put-back dunks, collected 13 offensive rebounds and got after it defensively, holding the Wildcats to 32 percent shooting in the final period.
“(Texas) dug up in us and we broke down and couldn’t execute anything,” Martin said. “They did to us what we have done to a lot of people over the last five years. They crawled up into us and completely took us out of anything we tried to do. Anything we did early in the game just went out the window.”
K-State led 42-27 30 seconds into the second half, but in a matter of six minutes, the lead was down to one. K-State threw a small counter-punch to push its lead back out to six, but the Longhorns weren’t fazed. Texas answered right back with the knockout blow, using an 18-2 run to take a 68-56 lead on a jumper by J’Covan Brown.
The Wildcats couldn’t respond on either end of the floor. They misfired on 17 of their first 24 shots in the second half, while Texas shot 68.6 percent from the field in the final period.
“Offensively, we played one-on-one in the second half,” Martin said. “If you play one-on-one basketball you have absolutely zero chance to win college basketball games. It’s not like our guys wanted to do that, Texas had everything to do with that.
“When we got punched in the mouth and got up on the ropes, we got wrapped up from getting hit and broke down. We played selfishly on both sides of the ball. Defensively, we played one-on-one. We didn’t play team defense. You play that way you’re going to get beat.”
The Longhorns took away the Wildcats’ strengths. Rodney McGruder and Will Spradling, K-State’s top two scorers, each had 11 points at halftime. The pair finished the game with 11 points apiece, as Texas went to a no-catch defense on McGruder in the second half, doing everything it could to prevent him from getting the ball.
“Rodney, they hounded him,” Martin said. “Didn’t let Rodney get any looks. But we’ve got three other guys on the floor (besides McGruder and Spradling) and those guys didn’t do a very good job of screening and passing the ball because they got wrapped up with the game.
“That’s what happens. You deal with adversity and you’ve got to be mentally tough enough to stick to your disciplines and we didn’t do that.”
That wasn’t the case in the first half. The Longhorns made their first five shots, then went ice cold, missing 18 of their final 20 shots to close out the opening period. K-State made 51.9 percent from the field and 4-of-8 from 3, while Texas shot 28 percent from the floor and didn’t connect an a shot from beyond the arc.
So really, at the risk of using the overplayed cliché, it was simply a tale of two halves — two completely different games.
The Wildcats, who are now tied with Texas at 6-6 in Big 12 play, go into a crucial stretch of games against three top-10 opponents, beginning with KU on Big Monday at 8 p.m. And Martin hopes his team can protect its home court like the Longhorns did on Saturday.
“(Texas) protected their home court,” Martin said. “They took it to us and we didn’t handle that very well. But we’ll be ready to go on Monday.”