Kansas State was closing in on making history — just a handful of minutes away from becoming the first team in school history to knock off a pair of top-10 teams in consecutive games. The 18th-ranked Wildcats were also gunning for a record-15th straight victory inside of Bramlage Coliseum,
All of this looked like it was going to happen, and then K-State threw the game away — literally.
K-State, leading by four with less than four minutes remaining, turned the ball over five times in the final three-and-a-half minutes, providing No. 4 Baylor the opportunity to come back and defeat the Wildcats 75-73 on Tuesday night, dropping K-State to 12-3 overall and 1-2 in Big 12 play.
“We just gave it away,” K-State’s Rodney McGruder said. “We had the lead and got lackadaisical with the ball, acted like we were trying to come back and not taking care of the ball like we had the lead.”
K-State took a 71-67 lead with 4:11 remaining on a pair of Jordan Henriquez free throws. In a span of 33 seconds, Baylor scored six points, four off K-State turnovers to take a 73-71 lead.
“Just extremely disappointed,” K-State head coach Frank Martin said. “Our guys have battled, they’ve worked, I respect the hell out of our players. But for us to be in a place where we’re fighting to protect our home court and to not close this game out because of a comedy of plays — it’s embarrassing.”
Trailing 74-73 with 2:06 left, K-State had two chances to take the lead, but turned it over on consecutive possessions.
Then, with 25 seconds remaining and the shot clock running down, Baylor’s Brady Heslip missed a 3-pointer, but the Bears’ Perry Jones III snagged the offensive board and was fouled. Jones would make one free throw to put Baylor ahead by two with 20 seconds left.
“Regardless of every single play you could talk about, it comes down to real simply — you’ve got to get a stop, get the ball, you’re down one, you’re at home, go get a shot, go win it,” Martin said. “Can’t get a defensive rebound. It’s hard to win that way.”
The Wildcats called a timeout with 14 seconds remaining and drew up a play to put McGruder and Angel Rodriguez in a flair-screen situation. McGruder, who scored a career-high 30 points, popped out to the baseline, isolating Rodriguez at the wing with the ball in his hands. The freshman point guard found a seam in the Baylor defense, and drove to the rim for what looked like the game-tying layup, but the ball was knocked out of his hands as he went up for the shot with 3.5 seconds left.
“Rodney made the perfect read,” Martin said. “They chased him so he ripped it, Angel stepped out and we turned it right into the ball screen. You’ve got to go make that layup. I don’t know how you lose the ball but that’s what happens when you’ve got a freshman in the game. You’re asking him to make a winning play against older players and he unfortunately couldn’t do it.”
Rodriguez, inbounding the ball beneath his own basket with less than four seconds, tried to lob it up to Jamar Samuels in the paint, but Quincy Acy swatted the pass to half-court, and during the scramble for the ball, time expired.
K-State squandered several opportunities. Every time it looked like the Wildcats had control, the Bears, one of three unbeaten teams in the country, would make a run. The Wildcats led 21-11 after the opening 10 minutes. At the 2:02-mark, Baylor had executed an 18-4 run to build a 29-25 lead.
K-State recovered, eventually taking a 44-35 lead with 16:53 remaining in the contest. In the ensuing six minutes, Baylor outscored the Wildcats 25-8, building a 60-52 lead.
The Wildcats finished with 20 turnovers, but perhaps the most frustrating part for K-State is that every single one of those turnovers occurred in the final 29 minutes.
“When they made their runs is when we didn’t play offense,” Will Spradling said. “We either put up quick shots or made careless mistakes. We turned it over a lot more than we have lately and that’s something we can’t do.”
Baylor, on the other hand, opened the game with eight turnovers in the first nine minutes, but pulled it together, only turning it over 10 more times in the final 31 minutes. That was due in large part to the play of point guard Pierre Jackson, who broke down K-State’s defense in the second half. Jackson finished with 10 points and 11 assists.
The Bears shot 54 percent from the field, a season-high allowed by the Wildcats, who entered Tuesday’s game holding teams to 37 percent shooting.
“The key to the game defensively was ball-screen defense,” Martin said. “It was the very first thing we put up on the board. Our ball-screen defense was pathetic. Never once did we have two guys on the same page guarding the ball screen. That’s frustrating, because we spent time on it, we talked about it, and we can’t play ball-screen defense against Baylor, you’re going to have a tough time.”
The Wildcats were visibly frustrated following the game, feeling like they let a big opportunity slip away from their grasps.
“I don’t care who you play - Division-9 school, Baylor, Dallas Mavericks when they’re making their run to the championship,” Martin said. “You’ve got a lead under three (minutes) in your home building, you’ve got to close that game out. We didn’t do that tonight. It’s disappointing.”