MANHATTAN — The Kansas State Wildcats showed two weeks ago in a dramatic comeback victory over Southern Miss that they know how to finish games.
But their last two outings before the new year, not so much.
There was no great cause for alarm after a second-half swoon against Vanderbilt, because they recovered in time to beat the Commodores by 11 in Kansas City, Mo. But when they nearly squandered a 21-point lead down the stretch before holding off George Mason 59-58 last Saturday, the sirens sounded.
“We talked about it, putting that foot on the gas and keeping it going and finishing games,” said K-State coach Bruce Weber, whose Wildcats (10-2) open Big 12 play against Texas (8-4) at 8 p.m. Wednesday in Bramlage Coliseum. “Obviously, we didn’t do a very good job of that. We let Vanderbilt get back into it, then (against George Mason) we left them get back into it.”
If not for four second-half 3-pointers from Kamau Stokes, the outcome might have been different against Mason. It also was Stokes who deflected an inbounds pass in the final second that kept the Patriots from getting off a potential game-winning shot.
“We got on our heels a little, doubted ourselves, and Kam was big-time,” Weber said of Stokes, who led the Wildcats with 20 points, including 12 in the second half. ”(Against) Southern Miss, there’s no doubt if it wasn’t for him and that one run getting us back in (it would have been a loss), and tonight, the way they were going we had to have somebody step up and he did.”
But Stokes was less interested in talking about the 3-pointers than his two turnovers down the stretch that helped open the door for George Mason.
“Of course it’s always good to get that win, but we made it real tough on ourselves, especially me with two careless turnovers at the end of the game,” he said. “I’ve got to take care of the ball at the end of the game.
“It doesn’t matter how many points I score. If I don’t do that, then I put us in a tough situation like I did.”
Eight of K-State’s 10 turnovers came in the second half, and 13 of George Mason’s 15 points off turnovers came after intermission.
But team captain Barry Brown dismissed the notion that the Wildcats were complacent with a 20-point halftime lead.
“The coaches and myself try to get our guys to stay focused,” said Brown, who finished with 12 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds against George Mason and leads the Wildcats in scoring with 13.9 points a game. “We were just down 19 to Southern Miss two games ago and came back to win, so anything’s possible.
“They’re a good team with good players, so we have to stay focused on the floor, (and) we lacked that as we went down the stretch.”
The Wildcats face a Texas team Wednesday that has won three of its last four, including a 76-56 decision last Friday against Texas-Arlington. The Longhorns also have beaten North Carolina and Purdue.
The Longhorns are led by senior guard Kerwin Roach, who averages 14.0 points, 4.0 assists and 4.9 rebounds. Senior forward Dylan Osetkowski adds 10.1 points and a team-high 8.5 rebounds, with Matt Coleman contributing 10.3 points.
With Dean Wade still out of K-State’s lineup with a foot injury, Texas has a decided height advantage. Freshman forward Jaxson Hayes stands 6-foot-11 and Osetkowski is 6-9, 250 pounds.
But the Wildcats played one of their better games against a taller Vanderbilt team, limiting the Commodores to 58 points. They have held nine of 12 opponents below 60 for the season.
“We’ve very good defensively,” Weber said. “We’ve got to take care of the ball, continue to work on our shooting and find ways to grind out wins.
“That’s all we can do.”