STILLWATER, Okla.- Momentum can be fleeting in the Big 12, as Kansas State learned recently by losing four of five games and seemingly going into a tailspin.
Then the Wildcats went home, put in a pair of game-winning performances against nationally ranked Iowa State and Baylor, and now they’re going high again.
The question now is how do they carry that success away from home? Jerome Tang, who has a good handle on his team by now, is also curious to see how the Wildcats will react on Saturday when they return on the road for a 1:00 p.m. game against Oklahoma State.
“We know momentum is a crazy thing, and it’s easier to build at home,” Tang said following the Wildcats’ 75-65 victory over Baylor Tuesday night. “And so I’ll let you know after the Oklahoma State game.
“I like how we’re playing. And I like the energy we’re playing with, and I think as a staff we’re doing a better job of being mindful of our kids and their bodies and rest and those things.”
Oklahoma State (16-12, 7-8 Big 12) has lost three straight games. But the latter two were on the road to TCU and West Virginia after falling to first-ranked Kansas at home.
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Two home wins moved K-State’s record to 21-7 overall, and tied for third with Baylor in the Big 12 at 9-6. But it was back-to-back losses to bottom place Texas Tech and Oklahoma the week before that Tang saw his team begin to drag both physically and mentally.
Then going into the game Iowa State gave the players some time off and they responded by rallying from an 8-point halftime deficit to win, 61-55. He planned to do the same after Baylor’s win.
“I don’t think it was ever about (being) locked up,” Tang said. “It’s about whether or not we have legs right now, and whether we’re fresh or not.
“What we do is go hard, and it’s going to be very short, so we’re fresh. And then we go to the state of Oklahoma and give them the best.”
The players were clearly more optimistic after the two home games.
“It’s really fun, especially when you can get a win in front of your home crowd,” said point guard Markquis Nowell. “He wins one after another, it’s just fun.
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“It gives you confidence going into a hostile road environment. We needed it, we listened to it (and) we engaged. When things went wrong, we adapted and looked into our mistakes, and it was good to be back again from the part of the winners”.
Instead of panicking after losses at Texas Tech and Baylor, Tang did some research that helped him decide that less was more between games.
“I actually went back and looked at the Big 12 schedule, because when teams play back-to-back road games, it’s hard to win that second one,” Tang said. “I think the school down the street (Kansas) was the only one that won back-to-back street races, and then we did it early (at Texas and Baylor).
“So we did it at the beginning of the (Big) 12. And they did it at the beginning of the (Big) 12. But once you get to February and the grind and stuff, it’s just hard that second game. “
This time around, the Wildcats’ last two road games — closing out the regular season in West Virginia on March 4 — are split by a Wednesday home game against Oklahoma.
Senior forward Keyontae Johnson, who came off a scoring funk with 25 points against Baylor, appreciated what she saw during the two home games.
“There’s no telling what can happen next, so I feel like we’re just trying to finish strong,” Johnson said. “Finish the conference strong and then you’ll have a good seed to get into the Big 12 (tournament).”
Arne Green is based in Salina and covers Kansas State University sports for the Gannett Network. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @arnegreen.