Five takeaways from Kansas State’s blowout victory over the TCU Horned Frogs

Charlie Riedel/AP

There are three times in any given season when Jerome Tang unleashes the angry version of himself on Kansas State basketball players.

He made the switch from Bruce Banner to The Hulk for the first time leading up to Tuesday’s game against TCU at Bramlage Coliseum and it showed. The Wildcats responded to their coach by blowing out TCU for an 82-61 victory in front of 8,600 fans.

“I just really felt like they needed that from from me,” Tang said. “So everybody up and down the hallway in the offices and in the locker room and in the gym and in the film room, everybody was on eggshells these last few days on purpose because there needed to be a heightened sense of urgency.”

Tang was angry, because he didn’t like the way the Wildcats let a double-digit lead slip away during a loss to Texas on Saturday. He deemed the second half of that game unacceptable. No way they were going to lose another game at home this week. Tang went into practice the next day with a mean streak and forced his players to perform demanding drills.

His strategy worked. The Wildcats broke open a close game by ending things on a 17-2 run that left the Horned Frogs walking off the court dejected.

“Coach got on our butts,” K-State guard Markquis Nowell said. “We just locked in a little bit more. We knew how important this game was. It was big and it gives us momentum.”

Nowell led K-State (19-5, 7-4 Big 12) with 18 points and seven assists while Keyontae Johnson and Desi Sills both added 14 to sink TCU (17-7, 6-5 Big 12).

K-State will next be in action at Texas Tech on Saturday. Until then, here are some observations from Tuesday’s action:

K-State won the turnover battle, and the game

The first time these two teams played, TCU forced K-State into 20 turnovers and the Wildcats had virtually no chance of overcoming that statistic.

Things played out much differently in the rematch.

K-State took much better care of the ball this time around and did an excellent job of stealing passes on defense. The Wildcats won the turnover margin 19-15 and used all those extra possessions to build a lead in the early going and then pull away in the second half.

The Wildcats scored 16 points off turnovers.

Whenever Jerome Tang’s team suffers a loss, turnovers are typically one of the main reasons why. This game showed how important turnovers can be to a victory.

Keyontae Johnson can’t stay out of foul trouble

It happened again.

K-State forward Keyontae Johnson played too aggressively on offense in the first half and ended up on the bench with two fouls before 10 minutes had ticked off the game clock.

Those are fouls he simply needs to learn to avoid.

The first came on the baseline when he was trying to drive against a TCU defender for a mid-range shot and the officials caught him with his left arm hooked around his man. It was arguably a cheap foul that didn’t impact the result of the play, but it was called nonetheless. His bigger mistake was continuing to drive at the basket afterward as if he was never whistled for that foul.

A few minutes later, Johnson was called for a charging foul when he collided with a TCU defender in the paint. K-State fans hated the call, but it was consistent with how the rest of the game was being officiated. Just like that, Johnson was essentially out of the game for the rest of the half.

That is the type of foul he needs to learn how to avoid.

Thing is, he entered this game saying he would do exactly that. This is far from the first time that Johnson has found himself in early foul trouble. He was in the same situation over the weekend during a game against Texas.

Interestingly, Johnson committed three fouls in this game and all three of them occurred on offense.

Tang said he will pull Johnson aside this week and show him how he could have passed the ball to open teammates in those situations rather than draw unnecessary contact.

Chalk it up as another learning experience for him.

Welcome to the record books

Markquis Nowell has broken Kansas State’s single-season record for assists at 187 with seven games remaining before the start of the Big 12 Tournament.

That shows how well the senior point guard has been passing the ball lately.

Nowell passed Steve Henson in the record books by sending out seven assists against TCU.

“It’s a blessing to be mentioned with those guys,” Nowell said. “Passing Steve Hansen, it’s a blessing. It just shows how selfish I am and he was at K-State. When you have a group of guys like we have here it’s easy to get assists and it’s easy to to make plays for others. I give credit to my teammates for finishing and for helping me break that record. Couldn’t have done it without them.”

This was a nice bounce-back game for him, not just for that reason. Nowell also drained a trio of three-pointers on his way to a game-high 18 points. He did give the ball away six times, so it wasn’t a perfect game for him. But he played with confidence and swagger.

It was an appropriate night for him to set a record.

Home crowd fired up by free food

There have been plenty of loud moments inside Bramlage Coliseum this season, but perhaps the loudest of all occurred on Tuesday when TCU guard Damion Baugh missed consecutive free throws in front of the K-State student section.


Well, it meant everyone in attendance was getting free breadsticks from Pizza Hut. K-State runs a promotion during the second half of home games that encourages fans to be as distracting as possible whenever the opposing team shoots free throws. Any time a visiting player misses consecutive shots from the foul line fans win free breadsticks.

K-State fans had come close to achieving the free food in recent home games, but it never happened. They erupted with joy when Baugh went 0 for 2 on his trip to the foul line. TCU had back-to-back misses later in the game, too.

The food promotion had the desired affect.

Wildcats stay in Big 12 championship mix

There is no such thing as a “must-win” college basketball game in early February, but it would have been hard to envision the Wildcats seriously challenging for the regular season Big 12 championship without a victory on Tuesday.

Take away Mike Miles and limit Eddie Lampkin and the Horned Frogs aren’t a strong team. Beating a shorthanded version of TCU was a borderline necessity for the Wildcats to keep pace with the other contenders in the league.

Texas and Iowa State remain a game up on K-State in the conference standings while Baylor and Kansas both also have four losses in Big 12 play. Any of them could still win this thing, including K-State.

The Wildcats are actually in a favorable position now with upcoming games at Texas Tech and Oklahoma. Though no game is easy in the Big 12, those are the teams at the bottom of the standings. A winning streak against them would give K-State an opportunity to do something special over the final few weeks of the season.