With a victory seemingly not in doubt, Kansas State could have played it safe in the final minutes of Wednesday night’s game against Oklahoma. Mike McGuirl had other ideas.
Up 49-38 with just under five minutes to play, junior guard Cartier Diarra dished it to McGuirl, who was well beyond the 3-point line. Without a hint of hesitation, McGuirl pulled the trigger.
He celebrated on the court as soon as it swished through — but he was even happier after K-State’s 61-53 victory. That’s because he noted he didn’t have head coach Bruce Weber on him for taking a bad shot.
“Well, it went in,” he said with a smile, with Weber sitting to his left sporting a grin of his own. “So I won’t have to find out, thankfully. I just felt like it was a comfortable shot. I had enough space, so I just let it fly.”
McGuirl didn’t put it up often, but his efficient performance, and game-high 16 points, lifted the Wildcats to an eight-point victory.
The Sooners closed within single digits with under a minute to play, but it was too little, too late for K-State great Lon Kruger’s club.
Despite the wire-to-wire victory for the Wildcats (9-11, 2-5 Big 12), Weber wasn’t entirely pleased.
“It shouldn’t have been close,” he said. “I’m a little disappointed in that. But once they cut it to six, now get the ball in bounds, take care of it. ... It’s been frustrating and disappointing that we haven’t finished games, but tonight we made some big shots when they made a little push at us and we got the stops.”
That the Wildcats won at Bramlage is an all-too-familiar feeling for Kruger — he fell to 0-8 against at the arena when facing Weber.
Kruger admitted that losing time and again at his alma mater’s home court is more irritating than defeats he tastes elsewhere.
“Bruce has done a great job,” Kruger said. “He’s had good teams. He’s done a terrific job with what he’s got — always. He lost a lot off of last year’s team in terms of numbers and now he’s bounced back and got this group playing hard.”
Playing hard, yes. Yet even Weber was surprised the Wildcats never were on the wrong side of the scoreboard Wednesday.
“We led basically the whole game, 40 minutes,” he said. “I can’t believe we did it. ... But we did a good job from the get go. Great defense, turned them over 19 times, 18 points off of turnovers when they only had two. Took care of the ball.”
K-State got off to a quick start, courtesy of a David Sloan layup that gave the hosts a 2-0 lead. The Wildcats added four more points on back-to-back jumpers from Sneed to extend the advantage to 6-0 before Oklahoma (13-7, 3-4) finally on the board with a pair of free throws from Kristian Doolittle.
The Wildcats’ lead ballooned to as many as 13 (25-12) with 6:13 to go in the half. But by the time the teams jogged into the locker room for halftime, K-State led just 28-22.
Somehow, the Sooners overcame a horrid half in which they hit only 31.6% (6-for-19) of their attempts from the field. They did it by making hay at the free throw line. Oklahoma shot a superlative 90% (9 of 10) on first-half free throws.
“We talked about keeping them off the foul line,” Weber said. “I thought the first half, that’s the only way they stayed in the game. Second half, if Xavier (Sneed) doesn’t foul, they only have three free throws in the second half. So we did a better job with that.”
One area where the Wildcats excelled Wednesday was holding the Sooners’ high-scoring trio of Doolittle, Brady Manek and Austin Reaves in check. Combined, they entered averaging more than 45 points per game; Wednesday, they managed just 23, led by Reaves’ 12.
“I thought our guys did a great job of scrambling and getting to the shooters, making them make another play,” Weber said, “and then getting into the gaps. That’s where we got some of those turnovers and steals. We were just active.”
Weber hopes the team can take the positive vibes from the win into its next game: a road date at 1 p.m. Saturday against No. 12 West Virginia.
“Hopefully tonight was a learning lesson,” he said. “It’s never too late to improve and move forward as a team.”