Jerome Tang vows to get Kansas State basketball back on track after disappointing home loss
MANHATTAN — In his short tenure as Kansas State's coach, Jerome Tang has seldom let his frustration show, even when they lost.
For example, just last Tuesday, following the Wildcats' 90-78 setback at Kansas, he said: "What good does it do to be negative? How much does it help our guys?"
But Tang's tone was decidedly different Saturday afternoon after K-State blew a double-digit halftime lead and fell to Big 12 leader Texas, 69-66, in front of a much friendlier sellout crowd at Bramlage Coliseum. He was at once both angry and apologetic.
"Y'all say that I'm always smiling. I hope that they are as pissed off as I am right now about what just happened in the second half," Tang said of his players. "And if they're not, they're going to figure it out."
The loss, which dropped No. 6-ranked K-State to 18-5 overall, and 6-4 in the Big 12, was its third straight conference loss. It also marked the Wildcats' first back-to-back losses, and against a Texas team that they beat earlier this year on the road, 116-103.
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Worse than any of that, in Tang's mind, was the fact that K-State lost in front of the home fans for the first time, in an electric atmosphere. Never mind that Texas (19-4, 8-2) came in leading a crowded conference race by a game.
"We never want to lose at home, man, and especially with the fans we have and the energy that they brought for us," Tang said. "And when everybody does their job and you don't, that's not a good thing.
"And everybody in our arena did their job, except for the coaches and the players on the floor. And we have to fix that."
As has been the case all season following Saturday games, the Wildcats have a short turnaround before getting back on the horse at 8 p.m. Tuesday against TCU, also at Bramlage. So how do they bounce back against a Horned Frogs team that beat them decisively the first time, 82-68, on Jan. 14 in Fort Worth?
"Just going to practice tomorrow and learn from film," said senior forward Keyontae Johnson, who after foul trouble limited him to five minutes in the first half against Texas, came back to lead the Wildcats with 16 points. "It was obvious things that we messed up on that we easily could fix.
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"Good thing it wasn't (anything) serious. We were bad defensively and we turned the ball over a lot, and they capitalized off of it. So it's just limiting our turnovers and giving us a chance to win."
Even with Johnson on the bench, the Wildcats controlled the first half and led by 14 points with less than a second left, when Texas' Sir'Jabari Rice was fouled in the act of a 3-point shot. K-State still led 36-25 after Rice made all free throws, but it gave the Longhorns some momentum heading into the break.
Combine the foul shots with a 12-4 run to start the second half and the Longhorns were right back in it. They took their first lead of the period, 46-45, on a Christian Bishop three-point play with 12:05 left, and trailed just once the rest of the way.
"They just came out and were way more physical than we were, and more aggressive than we were," Tang said of the second half. "I don't know what the mindset was, but we talked about coming out and owning the paint again, because in the first half it was, I think, 14-8, and in the second half it was flipped the other way. I think it was (22-9)."
Bishop was especially lethal in the second half, getting all 14 of his points and all five of his rebounds after the break. He and Rice, who also had 14, combined to help give Texas a 33-22 advantage in bench points.
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"In the second half, I feel like they came out and were the tougher team," said K-State point guard Markquis Nowell, who scored 10 points, but had six costly turnovers and only three assists. "They got a lot of second-chance points and offensive rebounds, which led them to add momentum and be able to come back and win."
K-State had two chances in the final minute to either win or force overtime. But with Texas up 67-66, Nowell turned the ball over, and the Longhorns' Rice converted two free throws at the other end.
The Wildcats then called timeout in front of their bench with 5.5 seconds on the clock, only to come up empty when Ismael Massoud's 3-point try failed to reach the rim.
Every one of K-State's league losses has come against ranked opponents, with three of them on the road. But with the top six teams — including TCU — all in the top 16 nationally, that's par for the course.
The solution to getting back on track is simple, according to Tang.
"We get to work," he said. "We meet (Sunday) at 5 (and) practice on Monday.
"I want us to live with this feeling for the next 48 hours, because our fans deserve better than what I did as a head coach and what we did as a staff and what we did as players on the floor in that second half.
"And we will be different on Tuesday night."
Arne Green is based in Salina and covers Kansas State University sports for the Gannett network. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @arnegreen.
This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: Kansas State men's basketball suffers first home loss against Texas