WACO, Texas — After all the close, heartbreaking losses Kansas State has endured this season, the Wildcats seemed due to break through with a win at some point. It occurred on Saturday — on the home court of the No. 9 team in the country.
Up by one, the Wildcats made a defensive stop in the final seconds to defeat Baylor 57-56 in front of a sold-out crowd at the Ferrell Center.
“We’ve been in the same situation five times in conference play and we’ve came out on the short end all five times (until Saturday) — it’s fun to be on this side of it,” K-State coach Frank Martin said.
Following a frenetic sequence of events in the final couple of minutes, Baylor found itself with possession of the ball with 12 seconds remaining to go for the win. Pierre Jackson, the Bears’ lightning-quick point guard brought the ball up the court and tried to attack the basket. K-State shut off his attempt to penetrate into the lane with help defense, forcing Jackson to give the ball up to forward Quincy Miller in the paint. Miller, trying to shoot over K-State’s Jordan Henriquez, saw his shot hit the glass and bounce off the front of the rim with 2 seconds left. The Wildcats then tipped the ball away to prevent an offensive put-back as the clock expired.
“The thing I was the proudest of was even though we missed some shots coming down the stretch there — outside of the Pierre Jackson 3, our defense was rock-solid,” Martin said. “Then to make that stop at the end of the game where we don’t give up on a play — Pierre went to make a play, we helped, don’t allow him to get into the paint, they take that shot and we don’t stand and watch. We laid a body on people so they couldn’t get a clean tip.”
Jackson had made a 3 with 2:11 left to give the Bears a 56-55 lead. Seconds later, Martin called a timeout, drawing up a play that worked to perfection as Angel Rodriguez lobbed an ally-oop to Henriquez for a dunk with 1:55 remaining.
On the ensuing Baylor possession, Henriquez blocked Quincy Acy’s shot, grabbed the defensive rebound, and at the other end, the 7-foot junior retrieved an offensive board that allowed K-State to melt nearly 35 seconds off the clock. Baylor, looking to take the lead with less than 20 seconds remaining, turned it over, creating a fast-break opportunity for K-State. But Rodriguez, who finished with 15 points and six assists, was whistled for a travel as he made a layup that would have put K-State up three with 12 seconds left.
So it came down to Baylor’s high-powered offense against K-State’s staunch defense, and the Wildcats’ defense, which held the Bears to 38.5 percent shooting on the day, answered the challenge.
“We rotated and helped one another and (it’s hard) to beat that when our defense is helping one another,” K-State guard Rodney McGruder said of the final possession. “We saw success because of our defense.”
K-State turned the Bears over 18 times, outscoring Baylor 18-13 on points off turnovers. The Wildcats kept Baylor from hitting a 3 in the first half, held Perry Jones III, an future NBA lottery pick, to just four points and four rebounds and blocked seven of Baylor’s shot attempts, the most any team has recorded against the Bears this season.
“They’re a really good defensive team,” Baylor guard Brady Heslip said. “They get up in the passing lanes and pressure and deny passes a lot. I think at times it threw us off on offense.”
Rodriguez’ defense was especially important, as the freshman point guard spent much of the game guarding Jackson, the guy who makes the Baylor offense go. In the first meeting this season, Jackson had 10 points and 11 assists to just three turnovers. On Saturday, the junior scored nine points and had seven assists to five turnovers.
“I thought we did a great job on Pierre,” Martin said. “I thought (Rodriguez), who guarded him most of the game (did well). Then our bigs, with our ability to guard their ball-screen, which killed us the first time we played them — for us to handle that a lot better was a huge plus for us.”
There were 12 lead changes in the second half, and in a game that went back and forth, it was the Wildcats who showed the resiliency and mental fortitude to hang on for a marquee victory on the road. After all the games K-State had came up on the short end this season, Saturday’s win seemed just a little sweeter.
“I look for growth,” Martin said. “I understand we coach and play to win games and the immediate reward is winning the game, but in the overall picure you have to continue to grow to get better. You look at (the loss to) Iowa State — it came down to kind of a similar situation; we weren’t disciplined enough to make a stop. Well, we did today. It’s awesome.”