For what has to be like the 614th consecutive time, the Kansas State Wildcats defeated the Texas Longhorns in a Big 12 athletic event. Tonight's loss came on senior night for Dogus Balbay, Matt Hill, Jai Lucas, and Gary Johnson. The 75-70 defeat was the Longhorns third loss in their last four games and delivers a clear path to the Big 12 title for the Kansas Jayhawks. KU is two wins away from an outright conference title that seemed improbable just two short weeks ago.
For the Longhorns, the loss moves them to 12-3 in the conference with a trip to Baylor still to come. It is hard to characterize Saturday night's regular season finale as a "must win" given all that this team has already accomplished. However, it certainly feels like a must win.
Before we move onto the next game, a few very quick notes about this one. Other than Tristan Thompson, the Longhorns were not good at all. They shot the ball horribly from the floor (33%), were carved up defensively (50% on the game), especially in the second half (58% after halftime), and got absolutely nothing from their guards.
Jordan Hamilton, who is really struggling with his shot, was 5-for-18. Cory Joseph was just as off, going 2-for-12. J'Covan Brown did sink a few late three-pointers but was still only 2-for-10 on the night.
At the forward spot, Gary Johnson, was equally ineffective. Gary went for 6 points on 2-for-8 shooting over 33 minutes.
The long bright spot was Tristan Thompson, who was simply outstanding in the first half. TT scored 26 points on 9-of-14 from the floor and a respectable 8-for-13 from the free throw line while also grabbing 10 boards. As good as Thompson was, only eight of his points came in the second half when Kansas State made their run.
While the shooting was atrocious, this loss, like the Colorado one, can be more squarely blamed on the defensive end. Jacob Pullen and Rodney McGruder had their way with the Longhorns scoring 20 and 22 respectively. Texas repeatedly suffered defensive breakdowns which led to wide open threes for McGruder or driving lanes for Pullen. If Texas is to find their mojo, it has to start on the defensive end.
Last, give Kansas State and Fank Martin credit tonight. I thought Martin managed the game really well. He used his timeouts effectively when Texas inched closer and strategically subbed Pullen out for a quick breather a few times. K State defended like crazy and took away Texas back cuts and even simple passes to the wings. Their ball denial seemed to confuse and frustrate the Texas guards all night long.
Not to try to sugar coat the loss but K State is rolling right now and finally playing like the team that was pre-season top five and picked to win the Big 12 conference. Pullen looks like an all conference player, McGruder is effective from the perimeter, and Curtis Kelly has found his rhythm too.
Vent here, if you still have the energy.
Next Game: at Baylor -- Saturday, March 5th 8 PM ESPN