At the first media timeout Saturday, exactly four minutes into the game, Kansas State’s men’s basketball team already trailed Iowa State 11-2. It got worse from there. Barely three minutes later, the Cyclones led 19-2.
K-State eventually trailed by as many as 21, 37-16, with 5:57 remaining in the first half. But as the Wildcats so often have done this season, they fought back, closing within four (52-48) with just under eight minutes remaining.
It ended with an all-too-familiar result for K-State this season: another loss.
Iowa State held off the visitors’ furious rally, topping K-State 73-63 at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa.
Wildcat head coach Bruce Weber blamed the slow start as the key culprit of Saturday’s loss.
“If it was an Ultimate Fighting match or a heavyweight boxing match, it was a knockout in the first round,” Weber said during a postgame radio interview. “First thing (written) on the board was ‘determination.’ ... But we turned it over, they got transition. We missed some shots. They just put it to us. Again, you spot them, and to our guys’ credit, they keep fighting. They keep battling.”
By the time the first-half buzzer sounded, K-State had trimmed its deficit to nine, 37-28.
“We had 11 straight shutouts to end the half,” Weber said. “And then I think we shut them out at least one, maybe two times, to start the second half. But it’s just not enough.”
Two areas specifically pained Weber: the free throw line (where the Cyclones shot a sterling 19-for-20 compared to the Wildcats’ 10-for-18) and turnovers (K-State had 16). While Iowa State actually committed one more turnover than K-State, Weber said that didn’t matter.
“But the 16 turnovers, for us, if you’re going to win on the road, you can’t do that,” he said. “You just can’t do that and have a chance.”
Solomon Young played a starring role for the Cyclones, scoring a team-high 20 points on 6-of-7 shooting. Weber credited Iowa State guard Tyrese Haliburton for getting Young involved early and often; Weber also complimented how well he runs the floor — and defending mobile big men has been a problem of late for K-State (9-14, 2-8). It started with Oklahoma’s Brady Manek, continued in last week’s loss at West Virginia and reared its head again Saturday.
“We’re actually back, but we’re running to our men instead,” Weber said. “You’re supposed to have a safety, somebody. We all say, ‘Guard the hoop.’ That’s No. 1. No. 2, ‘Stop the basketball.’ No. 3, ‘Sprint and talk. It doesn’t matter who you have.’ They beat us early and got those easy ones. And then they went to (Young). He delivered. He’s had two of the best games of his career against us: when he was a freshman at our place and tonight.”
At the half, Weber shared a simple message with his team.
“I told them, ‘You’re going to have one chance to win it. You’re going to have to really execute when it comes down to that,’” he said. “But when we get it to four, what do we do? Casual pass, turnover. Foul and a shot, don’t switch.”
Cartier Diarra, inserted back into the starting lineup Saturday, scored a game-high 25 points for the Wildcats.
“Carti was better,” Weber said, “but (there’s) just some little, little things that could make a difference. But obviously when he scores, it gives us a chance.”
K-State hits the court again at 8 p.m. Tuesday, hosting an Oklahoma State squad that took top-ranked Baylor down to the wire Saturday.
Tuesday’s game will air nationally on ESPNU.