KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The college hoops season is long enough that one game -- and yes, this is a veiled shot at the BCS, because whatever, the BCS deserves it -- doesn't have to matter all that much.
One game doesn't define you. One game doesn't decide your season. One game, even a really big game, might end up meaning nothing at all.
When that game comes in late November, it might mean even less. Or, then again, it doesn't have to. It's all about perspective.
Fortunately for Kansas State, which took a proverbial punch in the face from a scary-good Duke team Tuesday night, it seems to have plenty of perspective to go around.
"We're going to continue to grow and get better," K-State coach Frank Martin said after the game. "That's why you play games like these. You come up and play a team like Duke -- if you've got any pride about yourself, you're a better team the next day for it."
There wasn't much for KSU to feel encouraged about in the short term. The Wildcats turned the ball over 21 times, missed 12 of their 23 free throw attempts and saw star guard Jacob Pullen held to four points (and forced into four turnovers) on 1-for-12 shooting from the field.
For a team with realistic Final Four aspirations, it was not a rah-rah evening. But Pullen & Co. didn't seem as dejected as so many of their fans -- many of which made that long, depressing walk up the Sprint Center exits with more than three minutes remaining in the game-- did Tuesday night.
"We're going to be fine, believe me," Pullen said. "As long as Frank Martin's on that sideline and we have the locker room we have, we're going to be fine.
"It was an early test," Pullen continued. "We played a good, solid, poised team. I feel like we lost the battle, but it's a war. Hopefully we see them again in the NCAA tournament, a Final Four game, national championship, whatever it is. But we'll see them again, and we'll be better prepared for them."
There were some good signs for the Cats despite the comprehensive nature of Duke's win. Forward Curtis Kelly's offense was a bright spot; Kelly scored 19 points on an efficient 8-for-11 shooting night, adding six rebounds and looking like K-State's best chance of adding a truly dominant, athletic big man to its attack.
Kelly was far from perfect, of course -- he also had seven turnovers (a true feat for a forward) and missed four of his seven free throw attempts -- but in his second game back after an attitude-related benching by Martin, Kelly's active night was a good start.
But wait, there's more: Pullen has been here before. Last season, he recorded back-to-back 2-for-15 shooting nights against Texas and Oklahoma State on Jan. 18 and Jan. 23. His next two games, Pullen went 7-for-11 for 25 points in a win at Baylor and 8-for-18 for 22 points in a two-point loss to Kansas.
It's perfectly reasonable to expect a similar bounceback in the coming weeks, especially because Kansas State's schedule gets noticeably less daunting now that Virginia Tech, Gonzaga and Duke are out of the way. The Wildcats return to Bramlage Coliseum for games against Texas Southern and Emporia State on Friday and Monday, followed by a trip to Washington State on Dec. 3. The toughest two nonconference games remaining on the Wildcats' schedule are Dec. 18 against Florida in Sunrise, Fla., and Dec. 21 versus UNLV here in Kansas City.
So where does Kansas State go from here? According to forward Jamar Samuels, there's only one place to go.
"Forward," he said emphatically. "We can't dwell on this."
That drive, plus a healthy dash of their head coach's almost wide-eyed (no pun intended) perspective, should help keep the Wildcats from feeling too down despite the disappointment.
"It was a whole lot of fun," Martin said. "I mean, you line up against the No. 1 team in the country in front of 19,000 people ... Our kids have done some things right that so many people pay to come to see them play."