WACO, Texas — With 1 second left, Rodney McGruder came off a screen wide open, the ball in his hands and sent it toward the basket from behind the arc.
The Kansas State senior said he knew it was going to drop in.
“When I released it, it felt good,” he said. “It felt good.”
McGruder made a buzzer-beating 3-pointer on Saturday night at Baylor, giving the 13th-ranked Wildcats a 64-61 win to keep pace with Kansas in Big 12 race.
It was a crucial mistake from the Bears (17-12, 8-8 Big 12) that allowed the Wildcats the chance to setup the last play. With 7 seconds left, K-State (24-5, 13-3) ran a play to Shane Southwell, who missed a jumper. The ball went out of bounds off of the Wildcats with 1 second left.
Baylor sent in Jacob Neubert for the first time the entire game, looking to hurl a full-court pass and get off a quick catch-and-release shot. But Neubert’s pass soared over the heads of all the players under the Baylor basket and out of bounds, giving the ball right back to K-State — under its own basket.
“Good fortune went our way,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said of the play. “The ball didn’t hit anything, we get it with 1 second left. (We) didn’t do a very good job on the possession before that. Shane didn’t get a very good look, and he was probably our last option on that one.”
Weber called a play that originated in Brazil back in August, and one they’ve run just once this season in the first game of Big 12 play against Oklahoma State. Weber said it’s designed to be a quick cut off a back screen.
McGruder, who scored a team-high 18 points, said it played out to perfection with a pass from Angel Rodriguez and a screen from Thomas Gipson. When the shot fell through, the Wildcats rushed to their senior in a celebration.
Martavious Irving said he thought his teammate was going to make the shot from the moment McGruder caught it.
“You don’t leave Rodney open like that,” he said. “I just knew it was going in.”
The play was redemption of sorts from the Wildcats’ last Big 12 game at Colorado in 2010. McGruder made a last-second shot and was mobbed by teammates, only to have the officials review and call off the shot.
McGruder said he didn’t think about it until it was brought up, and then he realized how eerily similar the play was, even happening from the same spot on the court.
K-State opened the second half on a 7-0 run, including an and-one dunk from McGruder against Baylor’s 7-foot-1 center Isaiah Austin to go ahead 40-34. The Bears chipped in a pair of baskets to pull within two, but Jordan Henriquez slammed down an alley-oop pass from McGruder, and Rodriguez made a transition layup to push the Wildcats ahead 44-38.
But Baylor kept coming, using quick runs and 3-pointers to stay within striking distance. Pierre Jackson nailed a 3-pointer to bring the Bears within one at 54-53 with 5:18 left, and then Cory Jefferson turned an old-fashioned three-point play to put Baylor ahead 56-54 with 3:57 remaining.
Rodriguez ended the 8-2 Bears’ run by knocking down a 3 to push the Wildcats back ahead by one, and Henriquez scored on an alley-oop from the sophomore point guard to put K-State ahead 59-56 with 2:44 to go.
Jackson led the Bears from there, getting fouled on the next three Baylor possessions and making 5 of 6 from the foul line to tie the game at 61 with 35 seconds left.
Weber said his team handled the pressure at the end of the game well.
“Sometimes we’d like more emotion, but that’s probably one of the keys with them,” he said. “They keep not too excited, and come and do business.”
McGruder said the Wildcats made enough plays down the stretch to keep Baylor from coming back and winning.
“Basketball is a game of mistakes, as well as a game of runs,” he said. “They went on a run and we were fortunate to come away with a win.”
Irving scored 11 points off the bench in 34 minutes, taking over for an injured Will Spradling who was still feeling the effects of a bruised sternum. Spradling started and played just five minutes — all in the first half.
Henriquez added eight points and nine rebounds, and Rodriguez had 13 points and eight assists. K-State totaled 17 assists to just 11 turnovers.
The win kept the Wildcats on pace with Kansas in first place in the Big 12. K-State will be at home on Tuesday against TCU, with the Jayhawks playing Texas Tech at home on Monday. Both teams finish out on the road on Saturday, with K-State playing at Oklahoma State and Kansas playing at Baylor.
Henriquez said the Wildcats understand the significance of the situation.
“We’re right there, we’ve got to stay together, one game at a time,” he said. “Senior night, it will be a memorable night for the three of us (seniors). After that, we got to go take care of one more on the road.”
Baylor went to a mix of inside and outside early on to start the game, getting nine points from Brady Heslip and seven from Jefferson to lead 16-14 with 12:53 to play in the first half. After the Wildcats tied it with a pair of free throws from Rodriguez, Baylor used a 7-2 run to go ahead 23-18 with 8:13 left in the half.
K-State surged back to take the lead with a 12-2 run, fueled by a pair of 3s from Irving and a dunk and a jumper from McGruder. The Bears outscored K-State 9-3 the rest of the way to lead 34-33 at halftime.