A trio of 3s from senior guard Mike McGuirl — part of an 11-0 run in a span of about two minutes — took Kansas State from a 53-47 deficit to a 56-53 lead with 2:14 to play against No. 7 Oklahoma on Tuesday at Bramlage Coliseum.
And McGuirl’s efforts — pouring in a team-high 19 points on senior night, fittingly enough — eventually paid off in the form of the Wildcats’ keynote victory of the season.
K-State held on for a 62-57 win, its first victory in 11 tries this season against ranked foes. It also snapped a 15-game skid to ranked opponents dating back to last season. K-State has beaten at least one ranked team every year since 2006-07, which was Bob Huggins’ first (and only) season as the team’s head coach.
“I’m just so happy. I’m just so happy for my teammates, for my coaches,” said McGuirl, who was recognized prior to tipoff. “It’s a blessing to be able to have this happen. You wish it was (this way) the whole season, but man, this was special. This was a great, great, great game.”
K-State head coach Bruce Weber said he was “thrilled” for McGuirl, especially juxtaposed against last week’s home loss to Kansas.
“A week ago when we played Kansas, he was devastated,” Weber said. “You work your way in your career to get opportunities to play top-level teams. You play Kansas here in the Sunflower Showdown, and he didn’t play very well and he knew it. Now to come back in back-to-back games and be a big difference maker, I couldn’t be more happy for him and proud of him.”
Tuesday’s upset appeared in doubt midway through the second half, though.
K-State led 38-31 with 14:56 to go. In the next five-plus minutes, however, the Wildcats’ Achilles’ heel flared up: a scoring drought. The Sooners went on a 13-2 run to take a 44-40 lead with 9:27 remaining.
But the Wildcats rallied to hand Lon Kruger — the K-State great in his 10th season as Oklahoma’s head coach — his ninth loss in 11 games at Bramlage.
“Kansas State is playing better,” said Kruger, who is one of just 10 players in K-State history to have his jersey retired. “They’re playing really hard, really aggressively. I thought we opened the ballgame OK, then we went through a stretch in the middle that wasn’t what we needed to do. ... McGuirl hit a couple of big 3s to get it back even, then take a lead. We’ve got to play better than that. Kansas State played well to their credit, played hard, and we didn’t do the things we needed to do to win a ballgame.”
The come-from-behind victory gave K-State (7-18, 3-13 Big 12) consecutive wins for the first time since Dec. 21 and 29 (wins over Jacksonville and Omaha) — and doubled as the first time this season it recorded back-to-back wins over conference foes, following a road triumph at TCU last week.
It marked only the second loss for the Sooners (14-6, 9-5) in their last 10 games.
Oklahoma got off to a quick start, as Umoja Gibson knocked down a 3-pointer on the game’s first possession. That’s the way it remained — the Sooners on top — for the next 18 minutes, aside from one tie (7-7) at the 14:24 mark.
It didn’t help that for the second straight home game, the Wildcats struggled to find their rhythm from deep. K-State missed its first 15 3-point attempts against Kansas before finally nailing one 11:33 to play.
It didn’t take quite that long Tuesday. But the Wildcats still started 0-for-8. McGuirl broke through for K-State’s first 3-point bucket with 4:15 left in the first half. DaJuan Gordon added another less than two minutes later, and after he hit a pair of free throws, K-State had drawn even (27-27) for the second time in the half.
The Wildcats finally took their first lead of the game with 27 seconds remaining before halftime, as Davion Bradford scored on a putback.
The advantage was short-lived: De’Vion Harmon scored with just two seconds left in the half to send the teams into intermission knotted at 29.
Bradford and Harmon, ironically, not only were responsible for the final two baskets of the first half; they were the top-two scorers in the opening 20 minutes, too. Harmon’s 12 points led all scorers, followed by Bradford with nine.
Oklahoma made nearly half its shots (12 of 25; 48%) but K-State went 7-for-8 from the free throw line, making up for its 10-of-27 (37%) shooting from the field.
The Wildcats only will have so long to celebrate Tuesday’s win, though. In their next outing, they face their second top-10 foe in as many games: No. 10 West Virginia at 3 p.m Saturday. In Morgantown, W.V. Against a team that cruised to a 69-47 victory in Manhattan on Jan. 23.
Weber admitted he probably wouldn’t be able to get his players “down to earth for a day or so” following the victory over the Sooners.
But he said that can’t be used as an excuse to hinder their preparation for Saturday’s game.
“I hope they come with the right focus and mindset,” he said. “We’ll have to go there and battle our butts off.”