February 26, 2008

Despite loss, Martin sees team growing

There were four lead changes and five ties -- it only seemed like the lead switched hands 10 times. And no, D.J. Augustin and A.J. Abrams didn't combine for 12 3-pointers -- they had six. But in the malaise of Kansas State's 74-65 loss to No. 5 Texas at Bramlage Coliseum on Monday to kick off ESPN's Judgment Week, there was plenty left to recount and ponder. However, it took Frank Martin less than a second during postgame to offer one certainty, though.

He believes his boys are becoming men.

They're close. So excruciatingly close. A nine-point loss at Texas Tech. A 37-point win against Missouri at home. Then a seven-point loss at Nebraska, a six-point loss at Baylor before the stinging nine-point loss to one of the hottest teams in America in front of a soldout crowd. That's four losses in 12 days by an average of 7.7 points and three straight losses for the first time this season.

On Monday, the Wildcats fell 10 points short of becoming the first team in school history to beat three Top 10 teams in one season.

"Let me explain something to you," Martin said. "I couldn't be prouder of a basketball team than I am of our guys. One time I looked out there and I had five true freshmen out there on the court playing against a team whose starting five has numerous experience. I couldn't be any prouder of our guys.

"I just told them in the locker room that if they have one bad week a year in life, that's a pretty damn successful life. We just didn't have a very good week this week as far as winning and losing. We've got to regroup, come in here and stay positive. These guys have busted their humps for me for six straight months."

But while the Wildcats left Nebraska and Baylor amid cheers from opposing fans, they walked toward the home locker room as an eerie silence filled their own arena on Big Monday.

They've faced adversity before, sure. They lost four games in November and December, then bounced back by winning all six in January, including rousing home wins against then-No. 10 Texas A&M and No. 2 Kansas. Dropping five of eight in February, though, was never on the menu.

K-State visits No. 6 Kansas on Saturday night as the marquee game for ESPN's College GameDay.

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