Kansas State had been in a similar situation eight days ago against Baylor and mistakes cost the Wildcats the game.
On Wednesday, K-State missed five consecutive free throws in the final minute and the tension began to mount once again amongst the crowd in Bramlage Coliseum. The difference being, on this night, the Wildcats made a game-winning play at a critical juncture, something that didn’t occur late against the Bears.
With 10 seconds left in the game and Texas trailing by two, K-State guard Martavious Irving stripped the ball from Myck Kabongo near midcourt, which led to a Rodney McGruder dunk with 8.2 seconds left, sealing a much-needed 84-80 K-State victory.
“Irving went out and played like a champ,” K-State head coach Frank Martin said.
Irving, the Wildcats’ best on-ball defender, had knocked the ball loose, then dove on the floor and threw it to Angel Rodriguez, who passed it ahead for a thunderous jam by McGruder —the most important points of the career-high 33 he scored against the Longhorns.
“I tried to take my frustration out,” McGruder said of the dunk. “I’d just missed two free throws, so I was kind of angry about that. I felt like I almost let my team down.”
The Wildcats wouldn’t have been in this position had they hit their free throws. In the final 1:14, K-State was 2-of-9 from the foul line.
“We ran offense and got the right guys to the foul line,” Martin said. “Got to make ‘em.”
The Wildcats looked more like a Martin-coached team on Wednesday, scrambling after loose balls with relentless effort. Bodies hit the deck and the game was being played at a frenetic pace. Early on, it looked like the Longhorns had run into a hornet’s nest and were going to get run out of the gym.
K-State used a 16-1 run to take a 36-21 lead. But Texas followed it up with a 19-2 run to grab a 40-38 advantage.
“Seven minutes of bad offensive basketball almost cost us the game,” Martin said. “That’s a shame but that’s part of the growing process with a young team.”
K-State outrebounded Texas 33-30, but grabbed 19 offensive boards. The Wildcats held the Longhorns (12-6, 2-3) to 46 percent shooting, but the Longhorns shot just 41 percent in the second half.
“I was pleased with our defense, I thought our effort was pretty good,” Martin said. “I thought our guys were zoned in and I thought our guys were enthusiastic.”
The Wildcats held J’Covan Brown, the Big 12’s leading scorer, to 22 points on 8-of-28 shooting. Brown, who was averaging 19.1 points per game on 45 percent shooting, was just 4-14 from 3. And it was K-State sophomore Will Spradling who locked Brown down in the final minutes of Wednesday.
“He’s a huge part of their team and when he gets going they’re real good,” Martin said of Brown. “Our plan going in was to have different guys on him and when it got later in the game our plan was to put Will on him. Because Will right now is the guy that has the best understanding of how to handle screens away from the ball so he takes the right angles, he’s rock solid. He’s not going to go for steals that are going to create an opening for a player like him. I was real pleased with how we guarded him.”
On the offensive end, K-State was solid. The Wildcats (13-4, 2-3) shot 47.5 percent from the floor, including 52 percent in the second half. McGruder made 11 of his 17 shots, while Jamar Samuels scored 14 points.
Thomas Gipson added a spark, scoring 11 points to go along with six rebounds, all of which came in the second half.
“He was better,” Martin said. “Here’s what happens with young kids, when things don’t go their way, they hang their heads, they start pouting. He kind of went through that and yesterday was probably his best workout in a long time. It kind of correlated with the effort he played with today.”
Every win is important, but after back-to-back losses and a 1-3 start to league play, Wednesday’s game took on added significance. And the most encouraging thing was the Wildcats, for the most part, looked more like themselves.
“I thought we fought,” Martin said. “The first seven, eight minutes of the game and then the second half, I thought we played K-State basketball.”
•Nino Williams didn’t dress due to a severe sprain to his MCL in his knee. Martin said the team doctors believe Williams’ ACL isn’t damaged. He will have an MRI today.
•Texas made 19-of-21 from the free throw line on Wednesday. K-State’s last two opponents have now made 41-of-47 (87 percent) from the charity stripe. The Wildcats made just 21-of-39 (54 percent) from the line against Texas.
•Angel Rodriguez, who didn’t play against Oklahoma on Saturday, started for the first time in his career. Rodriguez started in place of Irving.
“I took (Irving) out of the lineup because he’s pressing,” Martin said. “He’s putting too much pressure on himself and I think that allowed him to relax.”