LAWRENCE — Two weeks after they knocked off second-ranked Kansas in Manhattan, the No. 7 Kansas State men’s basketball team was unable to pull off a regular-season sweep of the eighth-ranked Jayhawks — something they haven’t done since 1983 — falling 90-78 at Lawrence.
K-State kept pace with the Jayhawks through the early minutes, a stretch that has traditionally been treacherous for the Wildcats in frenzied Allen Fieldhouse. But after going to the first media timeout tied 9-9, the Wildcats wobbled. They fell behind 30-19 due to an 11-0 Jayhawk run. During that stretch, K-State coach Jerome Tang earned a technical foul after a couple of frustrating calls by the officials.
“I didn’t want to get a technical. But I didn’t mind getting the technical,” Tang said. “I’ve been here too many times where I think the crowd affects the referees. They’re human beings. This is no knock on them, because we shot more free throws than (Kansas) did. We made more free throws than they did. But it’s when you shoot the free throws that matters.
“I wanted (the officials) to know that I didn’t feel like the calls were being even on both ends. I said ‘No,’ but I pumped my fist, and they don’t like for you to (gesture). If I’d had my arms crossed when I said it, I wouldn’t have got the tech. But I’m not a cross-my-arms-‘No’ guy.”
Tang’s technical foul may have spurred his team on, at least momentarily. K-State cut the Jayhawks’ first half lead to five on two different occasions. But when the halftime buzzer sounded, the Wildcats trailed 49-37.
“They started early with turnovers, they got out in transition and they got their crowd involved,” said Markquis Nowell. “They had a huge first half. We dug a hole in the first half, but we competed.”
The Wildcats turned the ball over 10 times in the first half while shooting just 36 percent.
“I thought we got sped up and did some things that are uncharacteristic of us,” Tang said. “We had 10 turnovers in the first half, just three in the second half. In the first half especially, (the Jayhawks) were locked in. They made all the hustle plays.”
Though Tuesday was Tang’s first visit to Allen Fieldhouse as a head coach, he was well aware after 19 seasons as an assistant at Baylor just how significant the home court advantage would be.
“In an environment like this, you don’t win a game in the first half, but you can lose it,” Tang said. “I feel like (Kansas) did what they needed to do to get the crowd involved. I felt we had a bunch of self-inflicted wounds. Part of it was the environment. Part of it might have been the scheme and how we were trying to attack them.”
The Wildcats fought back to cut the Kansas lead to 54-48 early in the second half. But a couple of timely Jayhawk three-pointers and some missed opportunities at the other end turned a close game into a comfortable cruise to victory for the home team.
Jalen Wilson, who went off for 38 points in the first meeting between the two teams, scored 20 points, but on 5-15 shooting. Freshman sharpshooter Gradey Dick managed just 9. But guards Dajuan Harris and Kevin McCullar stepped up with 18 and 16 points respectively.
“The game plan was to slow Jalen down, and Gradey,” Nowell said. “We did a pretty good job. But Kansas has good players, so other people stepped up. You’ve got to give credit to them. They adjusted.”
“Our guys followed our game plan,” Tang added. “Wilson didn’t go for 38 this time and Gradey didn’t get 20. But (Harris and McCullar) made plays. You’ve got to have players who make plays at the right time. The credit goes to them.”
Four Wildcats scored in double figures: Nowell had 23, Keyontae Johnson 22, Nae’Qwan Tomlin 11, and David N’Guessan 10. But getting just one field goal from non-starters was a problem, Tang said. In the previous meeting, the Wildcat bench outscored the Jayhawk reserves 31-8.
“I’ve got to put those guys into better position to be successful. We got a ton of bench points last time we played (Kansas),” Tang said. “This time they did a better job of stopping our ‘other guys.’ They knew Markquis and Keyontae would score. They weren’t going to let our ‘other guys’ beat them.”
“I thought we played pretty well,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “We did some good things early. We shot it well and had some rhythm. They’ve got some guys that are hard to guard. Nowell and Johnson, they’re hard to guard, and Tomlin, when he gets going downhill with his long strides…they’ve got a good team. I actually thought we did some good things for the most part.”
N’Guessan played 20 minutes for the second consecutive outing after missing several games due to injury.
“I think they’re better with him,” Self said of N’Guessan, who missed the previous game against the Jayhawks. “What he can do, he can get out of a ball screen and run to the rim and puts pressure on people running to the rim. Nowell is so good off of ball screens. So I think it’s a dimension that makes their team better.”
“David adds a ton of value,” said Tang. “He really helps our defense and he’s going to continue to help our offense. That’s why I think we can continue to get better. We’ve got to figure out our rotations. It’s still a work in progress. But that’s fine because I don’t want us to be peaking right now. We’ve got a ways to go and we can get there.”
A win could have put significant distance between Kansas State and the Jayhawks in the Big 12 race. But by avenging the loss at Manhattan, the Jayhawks kept pace with the league leaders.
“There’s six teams in our league that have a legitimate shot,” Self said. “I didn’t look at it as us staying with K-State. But if K-State gets this one today after they won at Baylor and at Texas, you would say that they’ve gone to three of the four or five hardest places and come away with the ‘W.’ Their schedule tips to their favor in those regards. They’ve got a few of the toughest road venues out of the way.
“From a won-loss record, I have no idea (what it will take to win the Big 12). Five losses looks like a pretty good number. Maybe six. I can’t see anybody running the table the last nine games.”
Though the Wildcats dropped into a four-way tie for second in the conference, Tang kept a sense of humor about the race. Asked by reporters where he thinks his team is ‘at,’ he responded:
“We’re 6-3. You all picked us to be 0-9 right now. So where do you think we’re at? I don’t think we’ve played our best basketball. I think we can keep getting better.”
The first-year head coach said he chooses to focus on the positive after a loss like the one in Lawrence.
“What good does it do to be negative? How does that help our guys? Our job is to get them ready,” Tang said. “Me being ticked off…I’ll do that by myself when I watch the film. But the first person I’ll be ticked off at is myself. I’ll look at what I could have done better and look at what our coaching staff could have done better.
“I told the guys ‘I don’t remember us making a turnover. I don’t remember us missing a shot. I don’t remember us missing an assignment from tonight.’ We’re going to wash this thing and we’re going to focus on what’s next.”
The Wildcats will host No. 10 Texas on Saturday for their second top-10 matchup of the week.