STILLWATER, Okla. — Bruce Weber thought the game shifted on one play.
With 4:13 left to play, and Kansas State leading 61-59, Angel Rodriguez was called for an offensive foul on an out -of-bounds play that gave the ball to Oklahoma State.
The Cowboys outscored K-State 17-9 from there on the way to a 76-60 victory.
None of it mattered in the grand sceme of things though, as both K-State and Kansas lost on Saturday, each claiming a share of the Big 12 regular season title. K-State will be the No. 2 seed in this week’s Big 12 tournament in Kansas City, based on tiebreakers.
It’s the first league title for the Wildcats since the 1976-77 season.
But K-State (25-6, 12-4) did take a loss on Saturday, and the play that seemed to turn the game, at least in Weber’s opinion, was hard to shake.
In his postgame radio interview, Weber called the play a “shame,” saying Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart “flopped,” just like he “does all the time.”
In the press conference, Weber was still disappointed.
“I think the big changing play was the out-of-bounds when they called the offensive foul,” he said. “I bet if you went and watched it, it wasn’t an offensive foul, so that changed the game, and momentum a lot. And then they made plays and we didn’t.”
The toughest part of the loss was having the chance to ensure a share of the Big 12 title fade away. Senior guard Rodney McGruder said it was simply disappointing.
“We lost,” he said. “We had the opportunity to be regular season conference champions and we let an opportunity slip.”
The Wildcats trailed by six points at halftime, and came out of the locker room firing with a 20-5 run to go ahead 50-41 with 13:09 to play. But the Cowboys (22-7, 13-5) wouldn’t go away, turning in a 15-3 run over the next seven minutes to reclaim the lead at 56-53.
Thomas Gipson scored five straight to put the Wildcats back ahead 58-56, and then McGruder converted on an and-one opportunity to push the lead to 61-57.
After a pair of free throws from Smart and a ball that went off of the Cowboys out of bounds, Rodriguez and Smart made contact during an in-bound play and Smart dramatically flew away from Rodriguez and into the crowd on contact.
“It was a big one,” Smart said. “They had the ball with the momentum and us down two. When they called it, their momentum just dropped. The fans erupted, it gave our team the spark that we needed to make a run.”
Oklahoma State then scored 17 of the next 26 points in the game, with 15 of those coming at the free-throw line.
Gipson, who scored 15 points and grabbed six rebounds in the loss, said they just didn’t find an answer to the Cowboys two big runs in the last 12 minutes.
“Basketball is a game of runs,” he said. “We had a good run at the start of the second half and we didn’t stick to it and pull away, they got a punch and we’re supposed to punch back. And we didn’t.”
The Cowboys were paced by a 24-point performance from Le’Bryan Nash, who did so on 10-of-12 shooting. Smart added 21 points and Markel Brown finished with 16 points.
Oklahoma State finished with 36 points in the paint.
“We have not done a good job the last couple weeks of really protecting the paint,” Weber said. “We did not do a good job of denying it, we gave them too many easy layups and (Nash) started reeling and dealing and getting in there. We probably should have helped better. We should have protected the paint a little better.”
Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said Nash was a difference maker.
“(Nash’s) understanding of what we need from him has drastically improved,” he said. “I thought he was unbelievable — tremendous.”
Weber said it was disappointing to come out in the second half and make a big run, only to see the Cowboys come right back and the Wildcats fail to have an answer.
“I told them at halftime we had to just keep fighting,” he said. “We made a nice comeback, took the lead — give credit to the Cowboys. We had opportunities and just didn’t take advantage. The guys have battled all year and we battled today. Probably didn’t play our best basketball. We didn’t do a very good job defensively.”
The Wildcats were outrebounded 32-29, but had 14 assists to just nine turnovers. The Cowboys shot 56 percent from the field and K-State finished just 39 percent.
McGruder had 22 points to add to Gipson’s 15, while Angel Rodriguez finished with 10 on just 3-of-16 shooting, including an 0 for 4 line from the perimieter.
It was an even game for the first 10 minutes, until Brown put the Cowboys ahead 17-15 with a 3-pointer and opened an 8-0 run that put Oklahoma State ahead 22-15. The run included a shot-clock violation against the Wildcats, and a potential transition bucket that was eliminated when a water bottle rolled out from the Cowboys’ bench and forced officials to stop play.
The Wildcats cut back into the game with a 3 from McGruder and jump shot from Shane Southwell to pull within two points at 22-20. The Cowboys got a put-back dunk from Brian Williams and two free throws from Nash in the final minute and a half to lead 36-30 at halftime.
Nash was pacing the Cowboys’ offensive attack at the half with 14 points, while Smart had 10. McGruder led the Wildcats with 11 points.
McGruder said they have to put the game behind them and get ready for the Big 12 tournament next week.
“It’s just like any other loss,” he said. “It’s ether going to hurt you or help you. Hopefully it helps us get better and we see the mistakes we made and learn from those mistakes, and come back with a punch.”
Wildcats place set in Big 12 tournament
K-State went into Saturday’s game assured no worse than the No. 2 seed in the Big 12 tournament this week in Kansas City at Sprint Center.
The loss eliminated the Wildcats from a shot at the No. 1 seed, placing them in the second spot. K-State will open play Thursday at 6 p.m. against the winner of TCU and Texas.
With a win in that game, the Wildcats would play the winner of Oklahoma State and Baylor at 9 p.m. on Friday.
Senior forward Jordan Henriquez played just 10 minutes for K-State on Saturday, limited by a back injury.
Henriguez is just the latest Wildcat to be afflicted by injury, as Will Spradling is recovering from a bruised sternum and Angel Rodriguez has been battling a left wrist injury.
Weber said it was an injury that has bothered Henriquez throughout the season.
“His back went out, he gave it a go, he tried a couple times,” he said. “We’ve got to get healthy. It’s gone out quite a bit — just bad timing.”