COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Kansas State was far from an impressive basketball team during the majority of its nonconference games earlier this season, and the Wildcats reverted back to that underwhelming form in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
Texas A&M defeated K-State 65-53 on Saturday at Reed Arena, a result that will go down as one of the most puzzling of the year for Bruce Weber's team.
The Aggies seemed like an ideal opponent for this annual conference clash. They have been playing like pushovers lately, losing six of seven and getting off to a 1-5 start in SEC games. A sparse crowd turned out to support them, but the building got loud as they reversed their recent fortunes against a K-State team that had been red hot in the Big 12.
K-State hadn't looked this bad, when at full strength, since a 47-46 loss at Tulsa in early December. That game, by the way, is no longer its worst defeat of the season.
"It was very surprising," K-State senior forward Dean Wade said. "We have been so locked in the last few weeks, great energy and body language. Coming out and playing like that was a big surprise for us, not good. A lot of it had to do with our energy. We had no energy. We were dead out there. No one was enthusiastic. It made us play terribly."
Wendell Mitchell led Texas A&M with a scintillating second half that featured one highlight play after the next. He finished with 22 points, and all 22 of them came after halftime.
K-State and its usually formidable defense had no answers for him as he made 7 of 9 shots, including four three-pointers, in 18 minutes of jaw-dropping buckets.
"When they went at us, we didn't react very well on the defensive end like we needed to in order to give ourselves a chance," Weber said. "It's hard. It's a long season. It's hard to get up for every game. We kept talking about emotions, being ready, body language. We have been so good defensively. Then today we give up 51 (percent shooting) and 40 from three. "
Of course, a bad game on the defensive end was hardly K-State's only downfall.
Wade hit a three-pointer that gave K-State a 33-26 lead at the beginning of the second half, and it was all Texas A&M the rest of the way. The Aggies scored the next 13 points, with Mitchell hitting threes and throwing down dunks, and pulled away with an 18-3 run.
K-State was hampered by an ineffective offense. It looked completely lost when Texas A&M went zone and the Wildcats made just 20 of 61 shots. They were at their worst from three-point range, hoisting up 31 shots and making only seven.
"We obviously need to get better at attacking zones," Weber said. "There is no doubt about that."
Texas A&M usually plays man-to-man defense, but coach Billy Kennedy mixed things up after watching K-State play so efficiently against man looks in recent Big 12 games.
"We played zone the whole game, and I think it disrupted Kansas State," Kennedy said. "We took a chance and played zone, which we don't play a whole lot, and it was effective."
K-State's best offensive stretch came late in the first half when the Wildcats pulled ahead 28-20 on a three-pointer from Wade with 4:53 remaining. That shot capped a 10-0 run for K-State that featured a jumper from Barry Brown, a layup from Cartier Diarra and two threes from Wade. It seemed like the Wildcats were moving in for the kill.
But they only scored two more points before halftime and led 30-26 at the break.
"Everyone is going to look at the second half and say that is where we lost the game," Weber said, "but to me it was the first half. That's when you get it to 10 or 12 and they scramble to catch up. Maybe they don't go zone, but we didn't do that."
Wade led K-State with 17 points and Diarra had a surprisingly strong game that featured 14 points, but there were few other positives for the Wildcats.
Texas A&M (8-10, 1-5 SEC) looked like a better team than K-State (15-5, 5-2 Big 12), even though they entered the game heading in different directions.
"It was mental focus," Diarra said. "We came in the game probably with everyone expecting to win every game. It doesn't matter what the paper says, what our record is or what their record is. We didn't execute and handle our business."
The good news, if you can call it that, is that this result won't hurt K-State's conference record. It will negatively impact their perception, perhaps keeping them out of the top 25 when they were on the verge of breaking back into the national polls, but they will remain in first place of the Big 12 standings when they return to league games next week.
K-State will get a week off before it tries to bounce back at Oklahoma State on Feb. 2.