LUBBOCK, Texas — Sitting to the right of his teammate Desi Sills, K-State point guard Markquis Nowell spoke with a tone of anger, frustration and most of all self-disappointment as he reflected on his play from the No. 12 Wildcats in their 71-63 defeat to Texas Tech on Saturday.
Kansas State’s (19-6, 7-5) loss to Texas Tech isn’t a good one on the Wildcats’ already solid NCAA Tournament resume. The Red Raiders have won just two games in league play, including Saturday’s win over the No. 12 team nationally. Texas Tech has only 13 wins overall on the season. Making it worse, Mark Adams was without a pair of starters, both Pop Isaacs and Daniel Batcho were out because of injury on Saturday — and the Wildcats have now lost four of six games.
Saturday’s loss to Texas Tech, though, isn’t a story about how the Red Raiders have now won back-to-back games against ranked teams at United Supermarkets Arena, leading to a sparse crowd having the pleasure of rushing the hardwood. Instead, Saturday’s Wildcat loss to Texas Tech furthers a narrative about Kansas State’s struggles away from the rowdy Bramlage Coliseum home.
Since winning back-to-back games over ranked teams — at Texas and at Baylor — in the Wildcats’ first road trip in league play, the Wildcats have lost four consecutive road contests in conference play — at TCU, at Iowa State, at Kansas and Saturday’s loss at Texas Tech. In all but one of those games, Kansas State has allowed their opponent to score at least 80 points. In the Wildcats’ first two road wins in the Longhorn state, the Wildcats scored 116 and 97 points against Texas and Baylor.
‘That’s an anomaly,” Kansas State coach Jerome Tang said after the game on Saturday, “that’s not going to happen in this league. your defense has to travel. That’s how you win road games, by being a really good defensive team.”
Yet, Tang felt his team played better defense against Texas Tech. For the first time on the road in conference play, K-State prevented their opponent from scoring at least 72 points — but it didn’t matter because the Wildcats turned the basketball over 23 times, which lead to 28 points for Texas Tech.
“There is no defense for live ball turnovers,” Tang said. “They scored 28 points on 23 turnovers. That was the difference in the ball game. That had nothing to do with our defense. That had a whole lot to do with our offense.”
In particular, it had to do with K-State’s best players. Nowell turned it over seven times on Saturday against Texas Tech. Keyontae Johnson — who for the first time failed to score at least 10 points in a game this season — turned it over five times.
Nowell, who this week was named a semi-finalist for the Naismith Player of the Year Midseason Team, has recorded at least five turnovers in five consecutive games. Kansas State has lost three of those games, at Kansas, vs. Texas and at Texas Tech. In the last three games, Nowell has combined to turn the ball over 19 times.
“Put it all on me,” Nowell said. “I had seven turnovers (today) — I have to be better.”
In Kansas State’s two Big 12 road wins, Nowell gave it to the other team a combined six times. Johnson also had just six turnovers in K-State’s two Big 12 road wins this season, but in the last two games, he’s turned the basketball over 11 times. Together, in the last two games, Johnson and Nowell have turned the ball over 24 times.
“It’s about being mentally and physically tough,” Tang said about how to prevent turnovers moving forward. “And delivering passes with two people on you. We work on it. Just didn’t get it done tonight [against Texas Tech].”
After Saturday’s loss, Kansas State’s offense is turning the ball over on just under 20 percent of their possessions, which ranks 277th nationally. Twenty-nine percent of K-State’s possessions against Texas Tech ended in a turnover.
“Teams are doing everything in their power to stop me and Keyontae,” Nowell said. “They trap me, throwing different looks at me.”
Losing at Texas Tech on Saturday moves Kansas State into a tie with Iowa State and Oklahoma State in the Big 12 standings behind first-place Texas (9-3) and tied for second-place Baylor (8-4) and Kansas. The Wildcats are now two games back of first place, but they only have one game remaining against a team currently ahead of them in the standings — vs. Baylor on Feb. 21.
The Wildcats’ next game is at Oklahoma — losers of four straight and eight consecutive Big 12 games — is on Tuesday. Aside from Oklahoma (12-13, 2-10) being under .500 this season the good news for Kansas State is that the Sooners rank 339th in defensive turnover percentage, so keeping hold of the basketball should be simpler for the Cats.
“We’re going to be better on Tuesday,” Tang said.
If not a combination of anger, frustration and disappointment is likely to fill Nowell’s mind.