Consider the way Kansas State has started its Big 12 slate, with two losses in situations that felt far too similar to each other, and it would make sense if anybody around the team admitted to getting down on themselves.
That’s not the case, at least publicly, and here’s why.
In falling to TCU 59-57 Tuesday night, K-State made apparent that it has lots to improve: Free throws (11-for-19 in the loss), 3-point shooting (4-for-20), late-game execution, plus a lack of “mental toughness” that head coach Bruce Weber says is costing his team dearly in these late-game situations.
Even so, K-State (7-7, 0-2 Big 12) was close to evening its conference record Tuesday night. The free throws stand out the most, especially because the Wildcats went 3-for-10 in the second half. Those can be cleaned up.
Ditto for effort, the sense of urgency, that Weber said his team is lacking right now.
These, it seems, are all correctable issues. So are injuries. Freshman forward Antonio Gordon missed the TCU game with an injury he suffered in practice. He could return soon, though health has eluded K-State most of the season.
That is why the Wildcats — who actually started 0-2 in conference play last year, too, when they won the Big 12 — are keeping their heads up.
“It’s tough, because they haven’t been through it, whether it’s offensively or defensively,” Weber said, referencing the four newcomers on the roster. “I hate to say you keep learning from it, but that’s part of it. I like our guys. They care. They keep competing. I believe in them.
“We’ve just got to get a little smarter — within the game, and at the end of the game. If we do (that) within the game, it’s going to make the end of the game a little easier.”
What happened within Tuesday’s game, instead, made the end of it far more difficult for K-State.
The way the first half concluded sticks out like a sore thumb.
The Wildcats evened things at 23-23, but the Horned Frogs responded with four straight triples — a 12-2 run, all told — to seize a 10-point halftime lead.
TCU’s final trey in that stretch angered Weber the most.
TCU had possession as the clock ticked under five seconds. K-State wing Xavier Sneed poked the ball loose on the perimeter, and the Wildcats had a chance to grab it, but none did.
The result: TCU guard Jaire Grayer snatched it, stepped back behind the arc and drained a long ball as the buzzer sounded.
“Go get it,” said Weber, whose group lost on a last-second tip-in from TCU forward Kevin Samuel. “I would have (dove) on it. The officials are always on me for going on the court too much, but maybe I needed to dive on it and get a technical. Maybe I needed to wake up our guys and get them to play a little harder.”
Sneed, who registered 19 points in the loss, said he felt similarly. His team, he said, is close.
The Wildcats are just lagging in departments that don’t always surface on paper.
“We never know. It’s a 50-50 ball for a chance,” Sneed said. “It can go either way. It could be the possession that helps us win, so we’ve just got to be on our horse. Being more active, being more competitive. Just having that edge and that fight, especially now being at .500.”
Ask Weber how he keeps trucking, though, and he’ll talk about his players. Staying positive, he said, is his job.
Now, he’ll have to do that with a team off to its worst start in five years.
Good thing Weber is ever the optimist.
“It’s helping them, helping them get better,” Weber said. “They’ve got to want to get better. I told them after (the game): They’ve got to continue to prepare like they’ve done. They’ve got to continue to care like they’ve done. Now, in practice, we have to do a better job of executing.”