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Texas' 18-point first-half run buries Kansas State

Arne Green
Salina Journal
Kansas State guard Rudi Williams goes hard to the basket against Texas' Jase Febres during the first half Saturday night at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas.

Bruce Weber didn't so much throw in the towel as he leveled with his Kansas State Wildcats.

With K-State trailing No. 4-ranked Texas by 20 at halftime, thanks to a devastating 18-0 run midway through the first period, the odds of a comeback were long. But that shouldn't keep them from striving to get better.

"You've got to make the best of it," Weber said after the Wildcats' 82-67 loss to the Longhorns at the Frank Erwin Center on Saturday night in Austin, Texas. "Hopefully our guys keep their spirits up and hope we keep improving.

"That was the message at halftime. Let's get better in the second half. Obviously that's not a consolation, but we did make improvement."

That was the good news. The Wildcats shot 57% in the second half, and after falling behind by as many as 28 points, came back to outscore Texas over the last 20 minutes.

But that was not nearly enough to overcome the 7 1/2-minute scoring drought in the first period that led to an insurmountable Longhorn lead. The loss was the fourth in a row for the Wildcats and the fifth straight in the Big 12 as they fell to 5-9 with a 1-5 league record.

Texas improved to 11-2 and 5-1.

"We didn't come here to say, 'Hey, you didn't quit and got back into it.' We've got to be better," Weber said. "We all have to be better. We've got to take responsibility, and it starts with me. It starts with our other staff and down through the older guys."

K-State was still shorthanded against the Longhorns, with starting point guard Nijel Pack recovering from COVID-19 and big man Kaosi Ezeagu working his way back from a knee procedure. But after they were down to six scholarship players last week in a 70-54 loss to Oklahoma State and were forced to postpone Wednesday's home game against Iowa State, there were enough bodies available to get through the Texas game.

Forwards Antonio Gordon and Seryee Lewis returned from COVID-19 protocols and freshman guard Luke Kasubke made his first career appearance after recovering from a foot injury. DaJuan Gordon (ankle sprain) and Linguard also played, with Gordon logging 26 minutes.

Texas was without starting forward Greg Brown and key reserves Kai Jones and Brock Cunningham, but the Longhorns did not miss a beat. Junior Kamaki Hepa, who had played in only three games, stepped in for Brown and scored 15 points, while senior guard Jase Febres made his first appearance of the season and contributed six points off the bench.

"We had heard rumors yesterday that they might be missing some guys," Weber said. "Obviously you lose Greg Brown and you lose Kai Jones and you lose Cunningham, three experienced guys, it would be a tough chore to recover from them.

"But basically their starting lineup is still there. You've got guys coming off the bench. Hepa has started against us last year in the past, Febres has started against us (and) Donovan Williams has started against us, so they have pretty good depth."

Junior guard Andrew Jones scored a game-high 19 points and grabbed six rebounds to lead Texas, which also got 14 points each from guard Courtney Ramey and center Jericho Sims. Sims also led the Longhorns in rebounding with seven.

For K-State, Davion Bradford scored 12 of his team-high 14 points in the second half and led the Wildcats with seven rebounds. Rudi Williams, making his second straight start at point guard in place of Pack, added 12 points and six rebounds, while Mike McGuirl and DaJuan Gordon chipped in 11 points each.

Bradford, a 7-foot freshman whose foul trouble had made him a nonfactor in the two previous games, picked up two personals in the first half again against Texas. But he managed to stay on the floor for 26 minutes and hit 6 of 10 shots, including several emphatic dunks.

"I was in foul trouble the two games before this game, so I just had to be more smart on the defensive end," Bradford said.

Despite a 44-24 halftime deficit, the Wildcats did not concede, according to Bradford.

“Even though they went up 25 before half, we still had the passion," he said. "We still wanted to win the game.

"Second half, we tried to keep that energy and keep pushing, keep pushing, keep pushing and do anything that you needed to do to keep fighting to get back in the lead or do anything to get close."

The main emphasis at halftime, Weber added, was offensive execution. The Wildcats had just two assists on nine made baskets at the break, but came back with 10 of 16 in the second period.

"I sat on the bench and start a little chant, 'I want assists, I want assists,' " Weber said. "When we move the basketball and we play together and share the basketball, we're not a bad team. But when we try to do stuff on our own, we're not old enough to do that."

One surprise for the Wildcats was the return of Kasubke, who had been out since September. Kasubke, known for his shooting ability, did not attempt a shot in his 10 minutes.

"The young man hasn't played since March," Weber said. "We just wanted to get him some minutes."

Kasubke wasn't complaining.

"It felt great to finally be out there," he said. "I just wish we could have won."

K-State now has a short turnaround with another road game Tuesday at Oklahoma.