K-State’s NCAA Tournament chances take hit with Oklahoma State loss: 3 takeaways

If Kansas State fails to reach the NCAA Tournament next month, fans may look back at the team’s 75-72 loss against Oklahoma State on Saturday inside Gallagher-Iba Arena as one of the main reasons why.

The Wildcats could ill-afford to drop a game like this. The Cowboys entered the weekend in last place in the Big 12, and they were missing talented scorer Bryce Thompson. On paper, this was a matchup that K-State was supposed to win.

But the Wildcats didn’t play with enough poise, toughness or skill for that to happen.

Oklahoma State (10-12, 2-7 Big 12) rallied from an early deficit and handed K-State (14-8, 4-5 Big 12) its fourth straight defeat. For the first time all season, the Wildcats are below .500 in the conference play.

Tylor Perry led K-State with 19 points, but he was unable to make a deep 3-pointer on the final play of the game to force overtime.

The Wildcats will try to bounce back in their next game against rival Kansas on Monday at Bramlage Coliseum.

Until then, here are some takeaways from Saturday’s action against Oklahoma State:

Jerome Tang tried a new starting lineup

Some wondered if it was time for K-State to shake up its starting five as the Wildcats entered their weekend trip to Stillwater on a three-game losing streak.

Points have been hard to come by lately, and so have wins.

So it didn’t come as a huge surprise when Jerome Tang decided to shake things up and go with a new lineup against the Cowboys.

But he went with a different starting five than just about anyone would have anticipated. For this game, K-State sent senior forward Will McNair and junior wing David N’Guessan to the bench in favor of freshman guard Dai Dai Ames and sophomore forward Jerrell Colbert.

The Wildcats went younger and smaller.

It turned out to be a good strategy, at least at the beginning of the game. After starting recent contests against Iowa State, Houston and Oklahoma with long scoring droughts, the Wildcats jumped out to a 12-4 lead in this one.

Carter got things going with an early 3-pointer, Colbert knocked down a jumper and Arthur Kaluma made a driving layup.

Then McNair came off the bench and played with energy when he got his first opportunity. Dorian Finister also provided a spark as a reserve.

Interestingly, N’Guessan didn’t play a single minute in the first half against Oklahoma State. Tang later said he was dealing with a knee injury.

The new starting five was far from perfect, but it played with improved levels of energy and spacing, which gave K-State more and better opportunities to score.

A new kind of scoring drought

Believe it or not, there was a moment during this game when it looked like the Wildcats might win comfortably.

They got off to an early lead and controlled much of the first half — so much so that they led 24-17 with 6 minutes, 49 seconds remaining before halftime when Cam Carter made a fast-break layup and quieted the sparse road crowd.

Oklahoma State was struggling mightily to score. Without Thompson in the lineup, the Cowboys could do little more than drive to the basket and attempt heavily contested layups.

If K-State could keep doing what it was doing, then maybe it could leave here without ever giving the Cowboys an opportunity to make things interesting.

But that dream died in the minutes following that layup from Carter. The Wildcats didn’t score for the next 6:08. They apparently saved their scoring drought for the end of the first half on Saturday.

Going cold on offense allowed Oklahoma State to find its own rhythm, and it reeled off 13 straight points to pull ahead 29-24. It wasn’t until Kaluma made a driving layup with 41 seconds remaining that the Wildcats finally stopped the bleeding.

Take away that stretch of the game and K-State easily could have won. It was the deciding stretch of this contest.

Bad defense hurt the Wildcats

K-State has been known to struggle on offense, but it just about always plays well on the other end of the floor.

No matter how many shots the Wildcats make or miss on any given day, fans can usually count on their defense to keep them in games.

This was a different story.

The Wildcats actually had four different players reach double figures. In most games that would have been more than enough for fans to expect a victory.

Oklahoma State found an offensive groove in the second half and K-State could do little to stop it. The Cowboys scored almost at will in the second half, finishing the 20-minute period with 46 points on 16-of-27 shooting. They were best from beyond the arc, where they made six 3-pointers.

That made it very difficult for K-State to mount a comeback, even against the conference’s last-place team.

The Wildcats tried a variety of defensive looks to try and slow the Cowboys. Tang went man-to-man then shifted to a zone and tried some 1-3-1. None of it seemed to work in the second half.

Defense has been K-State’s calling card all season. But defense is what let it down in this game.