If you’re a competitor and you lose, it hurts. But the sting from a loss lingers longer and becomes tougher to swallow when the outcome of a game is decided in the final minutes — when it’s so close that you can reflect back on any given play and realize it could have made the difference between a win and a loss.
That’s what the Kansas State players and the coaching staff experienced following Tuesday’s 75-73 defeat to fourth-ranked Baylor.
“It’s a lot more difficult to bounce back from the Baylor loss than it is from the KU loss because we were not any good against KU and we were embarrassed,” K-State head coach Frank Martin said. “We tried against Baylor. We made mistakes at the end of the game but our guys prepared well, went out and tried. We just couldn’t get it done and when that happens it’s a little tougher to come back from.”
The 18th-ranked Wildcats travel to Norman to take on Oklahoma on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. in the Lloyd Noble Center for a game that’s significant for multiple reasons. Road wins are key if a team wants to have a chance to win the Big 12, and now that the Wildcats have lost at home, stealing some games away from Bramlage Coliseum takes on added importance.
“We take tremendous pride in defending our home court,” K-State’s Rodney McGruder said. “We let one slip away at home so there’s pressure on ourselves to go out and win some road games.”
This road trip against the Sooners represents a chance for the Wildcats (12-3, 1-2 in Big 12) to compete once again — and a win would do a lot in helping them move on from Tuesday night’s difficult loss.
“We’ve got a bunch of young kids,” Martin said. “Our younger guys, their feelings were still hurt (at the beginning of Thursday’s practice). Our older guys, they’ve been through it, they understand the season is a grind, you’re going to have moments where you try your rear-end off and it’s still not quite good enough.
“That’s why experience is so vital. That’s what was encouraging about today’s practice — those upperclassmen were upbeat, they were energetic and they got those young guys to buy in and as practice went on it got better and better and better. I was proud of the way our guys came out here (Thursday).”
Martin is a strong believer that you play how you practice, so K-State fans should take the resolve shown on the practice court on Thursday as a positive heading into Saturday’s game, which Martin said will be much tougher than it looks on paper.
The Sooners are 10-5 overall and 0-3 in Big 12 play. Oklahoma is coached by Lon Kruger, a former player and head coach of the Wildcats. Martin knows Kruger well, and said the first-year Oklahoma coach will have his team ready to play.
“I know they’re 0-3, but that’s not who they are,” Martin said. “If you go by the record then everyone says ‘oh what an easy game.’ Yeah, right. It’s going to be an absolute bear of a game.”
Oklahoma returns four starters off last year’s team, led by one of the top guards in the Big 12 in Steven Pledger. The 6-foot-4 junior is averaging 17.2 points per game.
“They’ve got older guys, guys who have been around,” Martin said.
The frontcourt is where Oklahoma does much of its damage. Romero Osby, a transfer from Mississippi State, is averaging 10.9 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, while junior forward Andrew Fitzgerald is contributing 12.5 points and 5.7 boards a game. Overall, the Sooners are outrebounding their opponents by nearly eight per game, the top mark in the Big 12.
“Romero Osby is a guy they didn’t have last year so they’re tougher at the rim now,” Martin said. “Lon has come in there, there’s a new flavor, new direction and those guys have responded to it.”
Because of that, this won’t be an easy bounce-back game for the Wildcats.
“Coming off a loss, this is where you see where guys are at,” McGruder said. “Will guys melt down or will guys build from that loss? We’ve got to see where we’re at after this Baylor loss. That was a really tough loss so we’ll be able to see where we are at Oklahoma.”
No. 18/18 KANSAS STATE (12-3, 1-2)
Yr. Ht. Ppg. Reb.
G — Will Spradling So. 6-3 11.1 2.3
G — Rodney McGruder Jr. 6-5 14.3 5.1
G — Martavious Irving Jr. 6-1 6.3 2.1
C — Jordan Henriquez Jr. 7-0 7.9 5.6
F — Jamar Samuels Sr. 6-7 11.1 6.4
OKLAHOMA (10-5, 0-3)
Yr. Ht. Ppg. Reb.
G — Steven Pledger Jr. 6-4 17.2 3.9
G — Sam Grooms Jr. 6-1 6.5 3.1
G — Cameron Clark So. 6-6 8.2 3.8
F — Romero Osby Jr. 6-8 10.9 8.5
F — Andrew Fitzgerald Jr. 6-8 12.5 5.7