TCU guard Lauren Heard’s 60-foot heave looked long enough, and, as it flew through a silent Bramlage Coliseum, uncomfortably straight.
But when the buzzer sounded, Heard’s shot smashed the front rim. The fans in attendance exhaled, and Kansas State’s bench players joined their teammates to celebrate on the floor. Finally.
K-State beat TCU 79-76 on Monday for its second win in seven days, something it hadn’t accomplished since its three-game winning streak in December.
In a game of a dozen swings, K-State head coach Jeff Mittie felt lucky to come away with a win. But he knows his team deserved it, too.
“You’re fortunate to win a game like that,” Mittie said. “But you also have to do a lot of things good to win a game like that.”
The list of good things starts with Christianna Carr and Ayoka Lee, who combined to score 60 points, a single-game record for a Wildcat duo. Lee scored 27 of her 29 points in the second half and overtime, including nine of the Wildcats’ 11 in overtime. The Horned Frogs sent extra defenders Lee’s direction all night regardless of whether she had the ball. But after Mittie subbed in more shooters to prevent TCU from doubling, Lee took over.
“I thought we did a better job of getting the ball inside from different spots on the floor instead of just waiting until it got to the wings,” Lee said. “And we did a good job doing it quickly so they couldn’t get help there.”
Emilee Ebert helped Lee’s cause with six assists, nearly all of which came on entry passes to Lee during her second-half surge. Ebert’s passing prowess always has impressed Mittie, who said he trusts Ebert to be his inbounder because of her play-making ability.
“She’s a good passer, and she’s a good passer in space,” Mittie said.
Mittie’s trust in Carr, who scored 22 of her career-high 31 points in the first half (including a school record 13 in the first quarter) grows every day. Carr missed just one of the seven shots she took in the first half while the Wildcats (8-15, 3-13 Big 12) built a 10-point halftime lead.
Entering Monday’s game, Carr was 9 of 47 from the field in her career against TCU. But her game has evolved this season, and it showed Monday.
“This year overall, my game has kind of just expanded,” Carr said. “I’m more aggressive now. I’ve found more ways to score.”
The Wildcats led by as many as 16 behind Carr’s big first half, but Heard, who briefly left the game after colliding with K-State forward Ashley Ray in the first half, kept the Horned Frogs (8-13, 3-13) alive. She finished with a game-high 35 points, and while the Wildcats slumped late — they failed to score for 4:13 of the fourth quarter — Heard nibbled at the hosts’ lead.
Heard cut the K-State advantage to 57-56 on a step-back jumper with 6:05 to play. She gave the Horned Frogs a 61-59 lead on a 3-pointer with 3:58 remaining. And with 44 seconds left, she banked in a 3-pointer to tie the game at 64.
“She’s a tough kid; I love that kid,” Mittie said. “She just plays her heart out every game and has been a great player for them for four years.”
Now the Wildcats will host No. 18 West Virginia at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, their third game in five days. The Mountaineers forced 29 turnovers en route to a 65-56 win over K-State in Morgantown, W.V., on Jan. 20, when K-State faced the opposite problem: It had just returned from a 30-day coronavirus-induced quarantine.
A lot has changed in the nearly six weeks since then, however. After the quarantine stint, K-State lost 10 straight games, five of which came by single digits. Now the Wildcats have won two close games in one week. Mittie thinks his players are more prepared for the Mountaineers this time around.
“Whether I’m ready or not, it’s going to come regardless,” Carr said. “So I’ve just got to do what I can — do a bunch of recovery stuff — and get my body ready. That’s really all you can control is just how much you can prepare.”