Kansas State didn’t just lose its last two games, it lost both on the road, and in close fashion.
When the Wildcats (14-6, 4-3 Big 12) take the court against Texas Tech tonight, coach Bruce Weber hopes a return to Bramlage Coliseum is just what the doctor ordered.
Yes, the Wildcats still have the chore of learning how to win on the road if they hope to be successful this season, but Weber thinks playing on K-State’s home court could re-energize a team in need of a shot in the arm after two narrow losses on the road.
But Weber said he knows it won’t be easy against a Texas Tech (10-10, 2-5) team that has given opponents fits.
“You have to protect your home,” Weber said. “Texas Tech is a dangerous team. Like everyone in the league, they are capable of beating people. Not only did they stomp on Baylor, every game they play is close. They can compete and we’re going to have to get ready to play.
“You hope the energy coming home and the students back in town will get our guys excited and get us over the hump and headed in the right direction again.”
Junior forward Nino Williams called the defense they’ve played at home phenomenal, but said communication suffers when they head out on the road.
Williams said road trips have been hardest on the teams’ freshmen players, which have been relied on heavily this season.
“The younger guys haven’t really been on the road,” he said. “Our first road game was TCU, and they didn’t understand how it was going to be. Then we went to KU and it kind of rattled them. Then we went to Texas, we should have won. It wasn’t really a crazy environment. Iowa State was a tough place to play, but we still had a chance to win.
“I think it’s just the energy of the crowd, being at home, and being relaxed and calm. I think on the road, it’s a whole different ball game.”
The Wildcats look to be in recovery mode after the way they lost games at Texas and Iowa State.
Against the Longhorns, their offense fell apart during a 5-minute stretch of keeping the Longhorns without a field goal. At Iowa State, the Wildcats had to comeback from 12 and 11-point deficits, but struggled defensively throughout the game.
Weber said each road game has been a learning experience, especially from the freshmen. But they have gotten better each game.
“We have so many young guys, they’ve had to learn a little bit more what it’s like on the road, the mental preparation,” Weber said. “We went back and forth about do we play a real road game in non-conference. We needed it, but we also needed wins and confidence. You win seven in a row and you have a good December and a January. At the same time, we knew that from TCU on, we were not a perfect juggernaut.
“Each game we’ve learned and gotten better on the road. Again, I think that it’s preparation and understanding that the other team plays on a higher level and off of the crowd and that you have to get yourself more prepared and more focused on the road. You can’t make the mistakes, take quick shots and turn it over. Maybe you can overcome it at home, but not the road.”
But it’s not all about what the freshmen can and can’t do on the road right now, and that’s where junior forward Thomas Gipson said the upperclassmen have to take over. Gipson said he feels it’s more important now then it’s been at any time this season.
“It’s really important because freshmen think that they have three more years to do something,” he said. “The seniors and I, people who want to get it done right now, we have to get it done and have to keep the young guys in check. It felt good to get the Big 12 championship last year, and we want to get it again.”
Looking specifically at the last game, Weber felt the team forced its offensive actions in the final two minutes of the first half against the Cyclones, especially after Will Spradling went to the bench in foul trouble. Despite trailing by two points, K-State rushed itself and had quick possessions while the Cyclones pushed their lead out to 12 points by halftime. Weber said he thought the stretch was avoidable if they played smarter, even if they didn’t score.
“It would have been better to run the shot clock for three possessions and handed them the ball and they would have only had two possessions,” he said. “The worst that it would have been is a six-point lead if they make two 3-pointers. We took quick shots, turned it over and it went their way.
“We just have to get more consistent. That’s basketball. The team that stays on top is the one that’s consistent, finds ways to win and wins close games.”
Even though they’ve suffered two tough losses on the road, Weber said the team has come back this week ready to go. On Sunday, he said they had a strong practice that followed with a pretty good one on Monday.
Gipson said the most important thing as they start a new week, is to stick with their mantra of going 1-0 every game.
“We always talk about keeping it one game at a time,” he said. “The past few times we’ve failed so we just have to stay on track. It starts against Texas Tech, and on Saturday against West Virginia.”