MANHATTAN, Kan. - For most of its road games, Texas Tech traveled with a 2-by-4 wooden plank that symbolized how the Red Raiders wanted to attack road games.
Metaphorically speaking, Chris Beard would offer the players something if they walked across the plank while it was on the ground, something that was a sure thing to do as every player would volunteer to walk across it.
But raise that plank high in the air and the Red Raider volunteer line would dwindle because the mentality about the same physical task changes.
Justin Gray couldn’t put his finger on it, but there was just something about road games that lacked consistency as Texas Tech finished 0-9 on the road in Big 12 games with a 61-48 loss at Kansas State Saturday afternoon in Bramlage Coliseum.
“We’ve been in really close games on the road, double overtime games on the road, gotten blown out,” Gray said. “I would like have seen more consistency on the road, but we’ve played great on the road and at home. It’s a disappointment. We just have to get back to work.”
Texas Tech (18-13, 6-12) trailed by as many as nine not even four minutes into the game before going on a 13-0 run over 5:32.
But midway through the first half, Kansas State (19-12, 8-10) figured out Tech’s game plan against the Wildcat big man D.J. Johnson.
If Johnson was close to the basket, the Red Raiders fronted him.
If Johnson walked the defense up away from the basket, the Red Raiders played behind him.
Dean Wade saw Niem Stevenson (6-foot-5) fronting the 6-foot-9 Johnson and lobbed a pass over the top.
Johnson caught the ball and finished through a foul by Matt Temple to slid over to help.
Two possessions later and Johnson caught Ross behind him, backed him down and finished with another and-1.
The following possession, Johnson took advantage of a switch that left 6-foot Devon Thomas on him and he added another bucket.
“We fronted (Johnson) pretty good for the most part, but we just didn’t have any weak-side help,” Gray said. “The plan was to front him and have corner help play behind so they couldn’t just lob it over. But K-State did a good job spreading people out and keeping things high so we couldn’t help.”
Once Johnson got into that rhythm, Kansas State started rolling.
The Wildcats went on a 19-3 run over 7:05 and finished the half out with a 23-6 edge.
“I thought Kansas State outplayed us for 40 minutes today,” Tech coach Chris Beard said.
Tech finished the first half with a season low 22 points off a season low 24 shooting percentage from the floor.
The only other time the Red Raiders shot lower than 30 percent in a half came in the second period at Iowa State when Tech shot 26.9 percent.
“Shots weren’t falling,” Gray said. “I feel like we got a lot of shots, a lot of open shots. Guys weren’t knocking them down, including myself. It’s a bad shooting night. I feel like we were getting the shots we wanted. They just weren’t falling.”
After Tech went on its 11-0 run to take a five-point lead with 11:12 to play in the first half, Kansas State switched to a zone.
Against that look, Tech finished the half 2-for-15 from the floor after starting 4-for-10.
In the second half, Texas Tech hung right there with Kansas State as the Wildcats outscored Tech 27-26.
“Just being more aggressive, communicated more and just played with more energy and competitiveness,” Gray said. “I feel like the first half we just didn’t compete at all. That put us in the hole early. The second half people came out and were a lot more aggressive with a lot more energy.”
Texas Tech finished shooting 35.6 percent from the floor for the game as Keenan Evans and Niem Stevenson each finished with 11.
After shooting 50 percent in the first half, Kansas State was held to 38.5 percent in the second half.
Johnson led all scorers with 19 points, followed by Dean Wade with 11 and Wesley Iwundu with 10 points to go with 10 boards.
“(Johnson) is one of the best players in the Big 12,” Beard said. “He’s very consistent and productive. I have a lot of respect for him, personally, with his story battling injuries throughout his career. He’s a good player.”
Looking forward to next week’s Big 12 Championship, Kansas State will be the district seed.
Depending on TCU’s game at Oklahoma, Tech will be the eighth seed with a TCU win or the seventh seed with a TCU loss.
Either way, Tech will face Texas or Oklahoma Wednesday night.
If Tech is the seventh seed and wins its quarterfinal match, it advances to take on No. 2 seed West Virginia.
If Tech is the eighth seed and wins, it advances to take on top seed Kansas.
“(We just have to) continue the process,” Beard said. “One of the many challenges in your first year is you’re just trying to build something. Some days it looks pretty good and other days it doesn’t. So we’ll just get back to work. Everyone in our program takes accountability on a day like today. It’s just not good enough.”
Player of the game
D.J. Johnson dominated the paint for Kansas State. The senior only missed three shots as he finished with 19 points for the Wildcats.
Why Kansas State won
The Wildcats changed up their defense multiple times which threw off Texas Tech’s offense. The Red Raiders never got into much of a rhythm offensively. The last 10 minutes of the first half - with only five points for Texas Tech - hurt the Red Raiders at the end.
Texas Tech heads to Kansas City for the Big 12 Championship. Tech’s first game will be played against either Texas or Oklahoma and will take place Wednesday evening.