With less than two minutes to play Wednesday night, it appeared Kansas State would earn its first win of the season over a Big 12 foe. Up 57-52 on TCU, all K-State had to do was hold on for the final 1:48. Twenty-five seconds later, the score still the same, ESPN pegged K-State's win probability at 91%.
The Horned Frogs had other ideas.
TCU scored the last eight points of the game, including the go-ahead 3 from Damion Baugh with 11 seconds to play, to send K-State to a stunning 60-57 defeat at Bramlage Coliseum.
"We hung together and we had a chance," K-State head coach Bruce Weber said. "Obviously we had the game in hand. You've just got to make one play down the stretch, whether it's a free throw or good decision or a defensive stop, a rebound."
Instead, TCU made all the plays necessary to walk away with a conference road victory.
It marked the fourth straight loss for the Wildcats (8-7, 0-4 Big 12), who have yet to win a game in league play. It also prevented K-State from winning in Weber's return to the sideline. Weber had missed K-State's last two outings because he had contracted the coronavirus. The head coach's comeback wasn't enough to turn the tide against the Horned Frogs (10-2, 1-1), though.
Perhaps the game's biggest play: ahead 57-55, K-State inbounded the ball to Nijel Pack — its top player and best free throw shooter — with less than 20 seconds remaining. But TCU pressured the Indiana native into a turnover, giving the ball to the visitors. Seconds later, Baugh knocked down his game-winning 3-pointer.
“Once Mike (Miles) got on the drive, I knew I was going to be open," Baugh said. "I just had to make the shot.”
On the ensuing possession, sophomore forward Davion Bradford had an opportunity at the rim to put K-State back on top — but he couldn't convert. Miles grabbed the rebound and nailed both free throws to extend the lead to 60-57.
Given the circumstances, Weber believed Bradford's bobbled attempt was the best shot the Wildcats could have asked for.
"It's the end of the game, there are no timeouts left and you're pushing it and trying to make a play," Weber said. "I think Davion had a pretty clean look at the hoop, and just didn't grab (the ball) and lost it."
But K-State had one last gasp.
Markquis Nowell, the Wildcats' top scorer on the night with 18 points, released a circus shot from beyond half court that hit off the backboard and nearly banked in to force overtime. But the ball rimmed out, sending K-State to its fourth league loss in as many outings.
The loss spoiled another standout showing from Nowell. He collected seven steals, tying for the most in a conference game in program history. It put him alongside LaKeith Humphrey, who also had seven steals in a game versus Nebraska on Feb. 11, 1989.
Nowell said "energy and passion" fueled his performance.
"I wanted to win the game," he said. "So I knew it was going to come with a defensive effort."
K-State's offense, on the other hand, lagged.
Its 57 points and 50% percent mark (11-for-22) at the free throw line both tied season-worst efforts.
The missed free throws, in particular, gnawed at Nowell.
"It's very frustrating," said Nowell, who missed his only attempt of the night. "It's free points. You've got an opportunity to put free points on the board, you should do that. I missed one — I missed a one-and-one, which is very unlike me."
Mark Smith, sitting beside Nowell at the postgame press conference, chimed in that he missed three himself.
The free-throw struggles were shocking given K-State's excellence at the line entering Wednesday. The Wildcats converted at a 75.2% clip in their first 14 games, the third-best mark in the Big 12.
That team didn't show up against the Horned Frogs, though.
"We've been really good (shooting) free throws, and tonight we weren't," Weber said. "It's a shame. I just feel for the guys, because like I said, I think they really do care."
But caring only does so much. Ultimately, wins and losses are what matter. For the past three seasons, the Wildcats have done far, far more of the latter. They will continue striving to turn things around, but with No. 19 Texas Tech on tap Saturday, things aren't getting any easier.
"They try," Weber said of his team. "They've been through a lot, and we had our chances, but you've got to learn how to win, and we didn't know how to win today."