MANHATTAN, Kan. — Texas tech interim head coach Chris Walker was mulling over what could have happened against No. 13 Kansas State.
"I thought we had a chance to play well against them," Walker said after the 75-55 loss Monday night. "If we made a couple layups . we make a couple free throws, I think we go up five in the first half, and it may be a different game."
And yet, it was not.
The Red Raiders stayed close in the first half but ended up on the wrong end of their ninth straight loss.
Mistakes – including 14 turnovers – kept Texas Tech from threatening an upset.
"That's just been our Achilles heel all year long," Walker said.
With three games remaining in the regular season, Kansas State continued to close in on an elusive conference title.
The Wildcats last won a regular season league title in 1977, but thanks to unprecedented success under first-year coach Bruce Weber and an uncharacteristic three-game losing streak by rival Kansas, Kansas State is tied with the sixth-ranked Jayhawks for first place in the Big 12.
Monday night's victory kept the Wildcats' hopes alive.
Now Kansas State has to keep its foot on the gas pedal.
"March is here," Weber said. "Next game is in March, and you want to be playing your best basketball. I hope they stay humble and they stay hungry. We've got to keep improving because in a couple weeks from now, you lose, it's over."
Thomas Gipson scored 20 points, Angel Rodriguez added 16, and the Wildcats (23-5, 12-3 Big 12) got their 12th conference win for the first time in 40 years.
Dusty Hannahs scored 14 points for the Red Raiders (9-17, 2-13) and Jaye Crockett added 13.
Walker compared this Kansas State basketball team to the school's football team, which won 11 games and earned a BCS bowl bid in 2012.
"It's not like Kansas State is going to out-talent people to death," Walker said. "They do a lot of great things that have nothing to do with flash and dash, and they're really just lunch pail guys, and they really make great plays when they need to, and they defend."
The Wildcats did not take control until the second half, when reserve Nino Williams jump-started the offense with 11 straight points.
"That's been one of our keys to our team," Weber said. "Every day, it seems like it's somebody else that steps up. It's hard to stop every guy that we have.
"I've said since the beginning, we have eight starters, and all of them can be very, very productive."
Hannahs said Williams is aggressive and athletic.
"Anyone that you let get loose like that is capable at this level," Hannahs said. "He's a good player just like everyone on their team."
With Texas Tech leading 44-42, Williams got the lead with a three-point play. He scored again after the Wildcats forced a shot-clock violation. He cashed in under the basket after a turnover. The Red Raiders tried to cool off Williams by using a 30-second timeout, but he promptly drained a jumper, giving Kansas State a 51-44 lead – the Wildcats' largest of the half to that point – with 11:50 to play.
Moments later, he snagged an offensive rebound, scored again, and then grabbed a defensive rebound.
Williams' scoring burst started the rest of his team, which continued the one-sidedness with a scalding 24-6 run. Kansas State led 66-50 with less than 4 minutes to play.
"Sometimes you miss shots, sometimes you make them, and I just looked to crash the boards," Williams said.
Kansas State opened the game with a 12-4 run that was capped by consecutive dunks by Rodney McGruder.
After that solid start, the Wildcats got sloppy, and the Red Raiders took advantage.
"I thought we had a chance to play well against them," Texas Tech interim coach Chris Walker said. "If we made a couple layups . we make a couple free throws, I think we go up five in the first half, and it may be a different game."
The Red Raiders climbed within 15-12 as four Kansas State players committed a turnover each in a 4-minute spurt.
"One of the worst things that happened, we went up 12-4, and then we were a little giddy, we lost a little bit of focus, and to their credit they came right at us," Weber said.
A 3-pointer by Ty Nurse gave the Red Raiders their first lead of the game with 1:53 to play in the half but a buzzer-beater from the baseline by McGruder gave the Wildcats a 31-30 lead.
"They started knocking down shots, some contested shots and obviously some shots where confusion came up," Hannahs said. "They got hot in the second half, with a mixture of us missing a couple assignments.
"Basketball's obviously a game of runs, but once you let a team that good get on a run, it's hard to get back in the flow."
Kansas State forward Jordan Henriquez, usually a starter, did not attend the game because he was traveling to New York for his grandmother's funeral. Gipson started in his place.
"We needed somebody to step up since JO's not here, and I just made the effort to step up and play harder than I normally play, just made an effort to do it on offense and defense," Gipson said.