The last few days have been difficult on Jerome Tang and everyone else associated with the Kansas State men’s basketball team, but it was tough to realize that while watching the Wildcats defeat LSU 75-60 on Saturday at Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
K-State blocked out myriad distractions, which included senior forward Nae’Qwan Tomlin being removed from the roster earlier in the week, and then went on the road and turned in its most impressive effort of the season.
Even though the Wildcats (8-2) are off to a good start, they have rarely looked like a finished product during their first 10 games. Four of their wins came in overtime and two of their losses weren’t competitive. This was the first time they passed the eye test.
Perhaps that is why Tang beamed with pride as if his team had just won a NCAA Tournament game afterward. He promised to celebrate by eating Beignets.
“Our guys were just so locked in today,” Tang said. “I was so proud of them. They followed the scouting report. When you’re on the road, teams will make a run at you. They did and we didn’t flinch. You know, I am just really, really proud.”
It is apparently not easy to rattle this group.
Even after chaos broke loose back home earlier this week when Tomlin was dismissed from the team for reasons that Tang and others within the K-State athletic department clearly didn’t agree with, the Wildcats found a way to block out all that off-court drama and play inspired basketball.
Cam Carter put on a show in front of friends and family while playing in his home state by scoring 21 points. Arthur Kaluma continued his recent hot streak with 17 points. Tylor Perry made several big plays in the second half on his way to 14 points.
The Wildcats surged ahead by 17 early in the second quarter and then saw that lead dwindle all the way down to three. But they punched back. They looked like the opposite of a distracted team.
“It’s been a whirlwind with everything else that has been going on,” Perry said. “But we are resilient. We have coaches that make sure we keep outside noise as outside noise. We can’t worry about what is going on outside of us. One of the biggest things we preached today was that it was about us. We had the determination and the grit to come in here and get a road win.”
That couldn’t have been easy to do, because the Wildcats clearly miss not having Tomlin around.
Even after everything that has happened following his October arrest for disorderly conduct, and now his dismissal from the team, they went out of their way to say they were thinking about him. Tang congratulated Tomlin for graduating from K-State at a ceremony on Saturday back in Manhattan. Then Tang said he was brought to tears on Saturday morning when he thought about how he would never get to mentor Tomlin again.
“He’s going to go play basketball somewhere, and he is going to be fine and we are going to be cheering for him,” Tang said, “but not very many people do what we do away from basketball to help and develop young men. That hurt me that I’m not going to be able to put that into his life everyday.”
Added Perry: “We love him to death. We wish the absolute best for him. I can’t wait to see what his future holds.”
Still, in a weird way, not having Tomlin around seemed to make this team more focused.
“Everybody knows that he’s not coming back to save us,” Carter said. “No one is. It’s just us. We are all we have, and we have got to play together.”
It was obvious from the start of this game that the Wildcats weren’t messing around. They scored the first five points of the afternoon and came up with big plays on both sides of the court every time they needed them.
The last few days have been incredibly stressful. But this game was a release.
No one would have blamed K-State for suffering an emotional letdown and playing one of its worst games. The opposite happened on Saturday against LSU.
This team was locked in.
“I felt like our guys had a lot to play for,” Tang said, “and a lot to be focused for and a lot to be thankful for. That allowed them to put their energy in the right place.”