Wildcats finish the job against TCU

By Joel Jellison

When Martavious Irving was subbed out with his two senior teammates in the final minute of the game, he walked to mid court, knelt down, and kissed the Powercat.

Just like Jacob Pullen told him to.

Irving and fellow K-State seniors Rodney McGruder and Jordan Henriquez played their final game in Bramlage Coliseum on Tuesday, beating TCU 79-68.

Irving, who got his first start of the season, led the seniors with 15 points and five assists, while McGruder scored 13 points. Irving said he wanted to go out the way Pullen did two seasons ago, and that Pullen gave him the idea through a text early Tuesday.

The Wildcats (25-5, 14-3 Big 12) got their biggest production out of sophomore Angel Rodriguez, who had 21 points and 10 assists. Junior Shane Southwell had 15 and sophomore Thomas Gipson finished with 11.

That’s just the way K-State coach Bruce Weber said it ought to be.

“I’ve seen seniors get so emotional and try to do too much, I’ve always put the emphasis on the other guys,” he said. “We got a pretty good basketball family. If you’re a family member, you want this night to special for these guys, and you can’t let them down.

“From Shane to Angel to Thomas, they didn’t let them down. They made sure they went on a great note.”

It was the 99th win of the seniors’ careers at K-State, with the chance to get both win No. 100 and the first conference regular season title since 1977 on the line at Oklahoma State on Saturday.

The Wildcats didn’t exactly do it the easy way on Tuesday though, letting the Horned Frogs (10-20, 1-16) spoil a 15-point halftime lead. TCU opened the second half on a 12-2 run to cut the deficit to 44-39 with 14:29 left.

By the 10:58 mark of the second half, Kyan Anderson sparked a 5-0 run to bring TCU within four points. Irving and Rodriguez hit back-to-back 3-pointers, but the Horned Frogs scored five straight to pull within five. Anderson led TCU with 29 points.

Gipson scored four straight and McGruder added a bucket to push the lead out to 64-53. Irving hit a 3 with 6:16 left to put the Wildcats ahead 69-55, and TCU couldn’t mount a comeback.

Weber subbed the seniors out with 34 seconds left, and that’s when Irving, who’s family saw him play in Manhattan for the first time, paid homage to both Pullen, and his four-year career at K-State.

Despite his big performance, including a 3 for 6 night from the arc, Irving said his biggest driving force was to win.

“I wasn’t really thinking about the start, I just try to come in and do whatever I can for the team,” he said. “Whether it’s starting or coming off the bench, it’s my last game in Bramlage, that was motivation. My family is in for the first time, winning the game, that was motivation.”

The Wildcats finished the game with 27 assists on 31 made shots, the 11th most in school history. The performance included 17 assists to 17 made shots in the first half.

“I don’t know if that’s ever been done before, but that’s pretty impressive,” he said. “It shows how well our guys play together and really move the basketball.”

K-State got it going early with a 3 from Rodriguez, and two 3s from Southwell to jump out to a 15-4 lead. Anderson tried to keep TCU in the game by himself, scoring 12 of the Horned Frogs’ first 14 to keep TCU within 10 points.

Rodriguez pushed the lead out to 13 with a 3 with 3:38 to play, followed by a 3 from Southwell at the 1:21 mark to put the Wildcats ahead 40-26. McGruder closed the half with a bucket to give K-State a 15-point halftime advantage.

Southwell scored 15 points for the Wildcats in the first half, making all six of his shots from the field. Anderson had 15 for TCU, making 5 of 7.

Following the game, all three seniors spoke to the fans, with Irving dancing for the home crowd one last time.

The Wildcats already have 25 wins this season, and have a chance to break the record 29 wins that was set in the three seniors’ freshman year. The team also won 14 conference games for the first time since the 1958-59 season.

“That speaks volumes on coach Weber,” McGruder said. “Just doing a tremendous job of coaching by him and helping us get those victories.”

Weber said it speaks more to the way the team has come together than anything else, and he hopes they aren’t done yet.

“Just to win 25 games, just so proud of these guys,” he said. “Chemistry is so important. I think we have great chemistry. We’ve won 25 because they’ve bought in. Now — do they want more?”

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