The #23 Horns (16-6, 6-2) fell, 73-72, to Kansas State (16-7, 6-2) in front of 13,662 mostly stunned fans at the Erwin Center. Losing at home is never good, and this one is especially tough to swallow. The Wildcats are big, experienced, and well coached, but they have no business beating the Horns in Austin.
Since, this is a loss, let's start with the Bad Stuff. Our half court 2-3 zone was terrible. The bigger Kansas State guards had no trouble shooting over the smaller Texas defenders. AJ Abrams and DJ Augustin simply do not have the length to affect three pointers by taller guards. Texas played zone in the first half in an effort to rest guys who had played tons of minutes in Lubbock and who were in for a tough, physical game this afternoon. In the first half, Lance Harris lit up the Horns for 16 points, most of them coming form behind the three point arc.
Texas then played zone for some of the second half after Augustin quickly picked up his third foul. Barnes was put in a tough spot: do you keep DJ on the floor but play zone to protect him or do you sit DJ, go big with Atchley along with Damion James and Kevin Durant, have Justin Mason and either Abrams or JD Lewis at the guard spots? I think Barnes made the right decision. Sitting DJ is too risky, as our half court offense is abysmal with him on the bench. Also, Abrams has not played well at the point all year and wasn't having a good game. So, the Horns stayed in zone and let Cartier Martin rip off three after three. Martin finished a ridiculous 7-for-11 from three and 29 points. His last three pointer, on a play where Durant got lost on a pick-and-roll, proved to be the difference.
Second, our defense on pick-and-rolls is bad. Texas rarely if ever forces the man with the ball sideways or to retreat. Opponents are turning the corner with ease. Or when we finally do stop the man with the ball, the screener rolls sideways for an easy catch and shoot opportunity. The Horns defender is left out of position and scrambling. This has been a problem all year and was never more apparent than in Martin's last three pointer.
Third, and this is another byproduct of the zone, the Horns were destroyed on the glass in the second half. Texas won the rebounding battle for the game, 38-36, but was handedly outrebounded in the second half. The Wildcats were active on the glass and very physical with the smaller Horns. KSU capitalized in a big way, grabbing 17 offensive rebounds, taking nine more shots from the field, and scoring 17 points on second and third looks.
Next, AJ Abrams followed up an awful performance in Lubbock with an even worse performance this afternoon. Two-for-sixteen from the floor for just seven points in 38 minutes is beyond awful. His play on both ends today hurt the Horns' chance to win. It was that bad. Abrams is a catch and shoot scorer only, who needs multiple screens to get open looks. He doesn't have the ability to shoot or score off the dribble, can't score in the lane, and doesn't play solid defense in man or zone. As Big 12 play continues, Barnes needs to seriously look at whether AJ's occasional hot streak from three is worth the sacrifices in size, rebounding, and overall defense.
After looking like an all conference performer through his first six conference games, DJ Augustin was slowed considerably by the bigger and more physical KSU guards. Augustin was kept out of the lane almost the entire game. He finished with just six points, two assists, and four turnovers. Kansas State also did a great job getting back on defense after missed shots. Our transition game, where DJ is most effective, was nonexistent. The Horns scored just six fast break points.
Last, Kansas State executed, and the Horns did not. Down the stretch, the Wildcats ran their offense efficiently, got good looks at the basket, rebounded effectively, and made clutch free throws. On the other hand, Texas forced some looks down the stretch, were outrebounded and outhustled, and didn't execute on either end in the final minutes.
What will be lost after our first dropped home game of the year will be the Good Stuff. Durant produced another solid 32 point, nine rebound game. He was especially dominant early in the second half as he scored the Horns first ten points. Down the stretch though, he looked tired. Durant missed the front end of a one-and-one and missed a turnaround jumper in the closing minutes that would have tied the score.
Connor Atchley and Damion James were also very active and effective for the Horns near the basket. Atchley scored just two points but grabbed eight rebounds and blocked five shots in just 23 minutes. I never thought I write this, but Atchley deserves more minutes. Our interior defense is greatly aided by his height and our defensive rebounding improves with him on the floor. James still had his clumsy hands moments, but overall he played well. He contributed seven points, nine rebounds, and two blocked shots in 29 minutes of action. James also knocked down all three of his free throw attempts.
Overall, this is a head hurting loss. On one hand, the Horns finish the first half of conference play at 6-2 and in second place. On the other more accurate hand, the Horns just dropped a much needed game at home and face an extremely tough last half of the season. Our next eight games include road games at A&M, at OU, and at Kansas not to mention challenging home games with OSU and A&M. It's hard to see us any better than 5-3 the rest of the way.
It won't matter if KD scores 32, 37, or 47, if our defense continues to be this bad. KSU shot over 40% from the floor and over 51% from behind the arc. Our zone defense also doesn't force turnovers or allow us to get out in transition easily. The Wildcats coughed up the ball just six times in the game and none in the second half.
As I wrote in the preview, this one wasn't going to be easy, yet I saw us coming out on top. It's time to regroup and refocus, especially on defense. We must find the shooters when we play zone; we must defend the pick-and-roll better; we must rebound better when we play zone; and we must stay out of foul trouble to allow for more time playing man to man defense.
Next Game: at Texas A&M Monday 2/5 8 PM (ESPN)