MANHATTAN, Kan. — Dusty Hannahs tipped the Kansas State inbounds pass away from Will Spradling and into the backcourt.
Texas Tech guard Daylen Robinson made a beeline for the loose ball and Jaye Crockett sprinted toward the basket, freeing himself into position for a sure basket that would have put Tech up by four points with 14 minutes to go Monday night and put the No. 13 Wildcats, one of the teams atop the Big 12 Conference standings, on their heels.
But Robinson’s pass never made it to Crockett. It hit the invisible wall that has stymied any Tech momentum all season and fell into the hands of Spradling. He found unlikely hero Nino Williams, who finished a 3-point play to begin an incredible personal run and put Kansas State back on track in a 75-55 win against the Red Raiders.
“It could have been a different game,” Walker said of steal-then-turnover sequence.
Instead it turned out like so many others. Like a delicate sweater, it took the tugging of one strand for a previously game outing to fall apart for Tech, which dropped its ninth straight game.
“We all had a good feeling about the game,” said Tech freshman point guard Josh Gray, who was named Big 12 Conference rookie of the week Monday. “We thought were going to pull it out and get a win.”
For 26 minutes, it looked like the Red Raiders (9-17, 2-13 in Big 12) had a chance. After a slow start, Tech began to find some balance offensively, as eight Red Raiders scored in the first half and Tech went into the locker room trailing by just one, 31-30. It was the team’s smallest halftime margin since leading Iowa State, 28-25, on Jan. 23, which was also the last win for the Red Raiders.
Tech trailed early, 12-4, before battling back and taking a 30-29 lead on a layup by Jaye Crockett, whose 13 points marked his fourth double-digit performance in as many games. Tech took its last lead of the game, 44-42, on a jumper by Jordan Tolbert with 14:20 to go.
But then Williams turned a turnover into three points, and Kansas State was off. The Red Raiders scored only 11 points the rest of the way.
“It was right before our eyes,” Gray said. “We didn’t even see what was happening it was so fast.”
The bucket by Williams, who averages less than four points per game, began a stretch during which he outscored Tech, 11-2, by himself while grabbing six rebounds.
“Basketball is obviously a game of runs,” said Tech guard Dusty Hannahs, who scored a team-high 14 points. “But once you let a team that good go on a run, it’s hard to get back in the flow.”
Before Williams caught fire — “As long as you play hard hard, everything will take care of itself,” he said — it was Thomas Gipson who almost single-handedly lifted Kansas State (23-5, 12-3).
The 6-foot-7, 270-pound forward finished with 20 points on 7 of 9 shooting and eight rebounds, helping Kansas State to a dominating 41-20 edge on the glass. Tech shuffled Dejan Kravic, Jordan Tolbert and Kader Tapsoba in a different times in an effort to slow Gipson, but all were mostly powerless against the bruising big man.
“They’re better at it, bottom line,” Walker said of the rebounding disparity. “That’s why they’re the No. 13 team in the country.”
On the same day he was named Big 12 rookie of the week for averaging 23 points the last two games, Gray struggled, scoring two points on 1 of 8 shooting against a team that recruited him heavily last spring.
“I was forcing too much,” Gray said. “When I was driving into the lane, the layups I usually make weren’t falling. That means your pressing too much. I tried to go get it instead of letting the game come to me.”
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