COLUMBIA — Frank Martin looked defeated. His broad shoulders hunched slightly forward as he spoke into a microphone. He stopped in the middle of his sentence, cleared his throat and took a swig from a 12-ounce bottle of Dr Pepper.
“Excuse me. I’ve got a sore throat. I haven’t done much talking the last hour and a half,” Martin said.
The sarcasm caused a ripple of nervous laughter to move through the room of people listening as Martin, Kansas State's men's basketball coach, addressed the media after his team lost to Missouri 75-59 Monday at Mizzou Arena.
Questions were worded with utmost care as reporters prodded the brooding coach for answers about his team's continuing fall from grace. Later, Missouri coach Mike Anderson would sit tall in the same chair, smiling and even laughing after he accidently said former player Matt Lawrence’s name instead of current player Matt Pressey's. What a difference one game makes.
“We were 1-2. That was a big ball game for a lot of reasons,” Anderson said.
Missouri and Kansas State came into Monday's game in similar positions. Both teams were 1-2 in the Big 12. How they got there is where the stories differ.
Missouri had jumped out to a strong start, its only blemish coming from an overtime loss to Georgetown on Nov. 30. The Tigers were riding high when they went to Colorado to open conference play, but returned home humbled by a loss. The next road game equaled the team’s next loss, an overtime heartbreaker against Texas A&M. Missouri responded on Monday, beating Kansas State to stay undefeated at Mizzou Arena this season.
“I said from Day One you’ve got to take care of home, and we’ve been pretty good at home,” Anderson said.
Looking ahead, Anderson said he hoped Monday’s win would be a recipe for Missouri’s first conference win on the road. But for the rest of the evening, his team could simply enjoy the victory.
Kansas State didn’t have the luxury. Before the season ever started, the Wildcats were picked to win the conference by the coaches of the Big 12. They have tumbled out of the AP Top 25 ranking after starting at No. 3. Martin's team has yet to live up to the hype.
“It’s flattering that the coaches thought that much of us, but I was also worried about how we were going to replace grown men with young kids," Martin said.
"Obviously, at times we are a good basketball team, and at other times, we’re vulnerable. It’s something we’ve got to continue to work on.”
Coming into Monday’s game, Kansas State carried a bit of momentum after thumping Texas Tech by 34 points on Saturday. A win against Missouri was a chance to right the ship for the rest of the season. The Wildcats trailed by 15, mounted a comeback after halftime and then watched Missouri run away again to end the game. Martin and his players left Columbia with their sixth loss of the season, three coming from Big 12 opponents.
“We’re going to end up the year however we deserve to end up the year, however we handle the situations and growth we’ve got to go through," Martin said.
After Martin took his drink, he set the plastic bottle back down on the table in front of him. The line of brown liquid had disappeared behind the adhesive label.
Missouri would say the bottle was half-full. For Kansas State, however, things are looking a little less optimistic.