Inside Slant - Kansas State

MANHATTAN, Kan. - As inexplicable as a loss at Oklahoma was for Kansas State, a home-court defeat against the Sooners on Jan. 28 was even more stunning. Get Inside Kansas State Basketball..

The 63-60 loss dropped the Wildcats to 15-5 overall and 4-4 in the Big 12 after a golden opportunity existed for Kansas State to make a move in the conference race. Instead, a .500 start at the halfway mark raises concerns regarding deficiencies.

Chief among those in the Oklahoma loss was the inability to value the basketball. Kansas State committed 20 turnovers, many of them the result of carelessness and the last coming in the closing seconds when center Jordan Henriquez surrendered the ball to the Sooners' point guard, Sam Grooms. Oklahoma converted four of four free throws in the final 9.3 seconds, though the Wildcats got a last-second 3-point look for Rodney McGruder that bounded off.

The loss was yet another disturbing example that Kansas State lacks the toughness fifth-year coach Frank Martin demands from players in his program. Toughness not only equates into the physical ability to control the paint, but also the mental capacity to take care of the ball.

"You cannot lose at home," Martin said. "I do not care how you have to get it done, you cannot lose at home. We have been pretty good at that. It is just disappointing. ... When the game started, it got physical. We just stopped running our offense, and guys just break off and do their own thing."

Of Oklahoma's three Big 12 wins, two were against the Wildcats. In the rematch, Kansas State had no answer defensively for Steven Pledger, who went 11-for-17 and scored 30 points to pace the Sooners.

In past seasons under Martin, Kansas State has shown the fortitude to bounce back from a demoralizing loss and close with strong runs that qualified the Wildcats for the NCAA Tournament. Better control of the offense is needed immediately, however, and freshman point guard Angel Rodriguez may not be up to the task this early in his collegiate career.

NOTES, QUOTES

Kruger wins in his return to Manhattan

--The Jan. 28 visit by Oklahoma marked the return of former Kansas State player and coach Lon Kruger. It was the sixth time Kruger coached against the Wildcats, but the first time he directed an opposing team in Bramlage Coliseum, which opened in 1988-89 when Kruger coached Kansas State. His return was incorporated into a gathering of about 50 former players and coaches. As expected, Kruger downplayed the significance of the Sooners' 63-60 upset, except to praise his players. Still, all the Sooners needed to do was look up and see Kruger's old No. 12 hanging from the rafters.

"It meant a lot to me," Oklahoma G Sam Grooms said. "You come back here, where played, in a big-time environment, you want to win for him so he has a little bit of bragging rights. I know he said we didn't know about it, but I knew about it."

--Former Kansas State players were introduced at halftime of the Oklahoma game, and they were followed on the court by members of the football team, who were honored for their 10-win season, which culminated in a trip to the Cotton Bowl. QB Collin Klein spoke on behalf of the football team.

--The 30-point performance by Oklahoma G Steven Pledger tied the season-high scoring mark by a Kansas State opponent. West Virginia's Kevin Jones previously managed that total in double overtime.

"He was just catching the ball wherever he wanted to and getting open looks," Wildcats G Rodney McGruder said of Pledger. "You can't let a shooter do that. You have to make his catches hard."

BY THE NUMBERS: 6 -- Season-high total of charges Kansas State drew defensively in the loss to Oklahoma, including three by F Jamar Samuels.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Our turnovers aren't aggressive turnovers -- they're careless, passive turnovers that lead to easy points. That's a problem." -- Kansas State coach Frank Martin.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAMES:

--at Iowa State, Jan. 31.

KEY MATCHUPS:

The Cyclones are coming off one of their biggest wins in years, a Jan. 28 victory at home against Kansas, which entered the game undefeated in the Big 12. Division I transfers have led Iowa State's resurgence in Fred Hoiberg's second season as coach. F Royce White (Minnesota) has been as instrumental as any of the transfers, and he hurt Kansas with 18 points, nine rebounds and five assists. ISU G Scott Christopherson, G Chris Babb, F Melvin Ejim and G Chris Allen all can heat up from outside.

--vs. Texas A&M, Feb. 4

KEY MATCHUPS:
The Aggies, picked as preseason co-favorites (with Kansas) in the Big 12, have struggled with injuries. F Khris Middleton and G Dash Harris were two starters A&M missed as it tapped unknowns off the bench, and they responded with 25 points in a Jan. 28 victory against Oklahoma State. G Elston Turner has become the most consistent threat for A&M, scoring in double figures in nine straight games while establishing a career best of 24 points in a Jan. 23 loss at Kansas.

FUTURES MARKET:
Demanding better ball control is one thing, but Kansas State may lack the point guard who can provide dependability. G Angel Rodriguez is up and down as a freshman, while G Will Spradling and G Martavious Irving are both unsure and uncomfortable at times with the ball. Turnovers also have plagued the big men, who have had problems handling passes and rebounds. If the deficiency is not solved, Kansas State will struggle.

PLAYER NOTES

--Junior G Rodney McGruder led Kansas State with 19 points in the Jan. 28 loss to Oklahoma, the 11th time in 12 games he netted double figures.

--Junior F Jordan Henriquez returned from a one-game suspension to play Jan. 25 at Texas Tech, then posted nine points and six rebounds in 21 minutes against Oklahoma.

--Freshman F Thomas Gipson played only seven minutes as a starter against Oklahoma. No reason was given for his short stint.


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