KANSAS CITY, Mo. – For the first time since the first four games of the season the Kansas State Wildcats have won consecutive games after knocking off TCU on Wednesday night 53-49 at the Big 12 Championship tournament.
K-State got out to a quick lead on Wednesday night at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri, scoring the first six points of the game and led 16-6 before the second media timeout.
The Wildcats led by as many as 17 in the first half, even after going on a scoreless drought that lasted 4:11. They maintained a 9-0 run despite the drought as well because the Horned Frogs went over seven minutes without scoring.
Mere moments before the halftime buzzer TCU sophomore R.J. Nembhard hit a three pointer to cut K-State’s lead to 10. That signaled a run for the Horned Frogs that felt far too reminiscent of multiple Wildcats losses this season.
As K-State coach Bruce Weber pointed out after the game, the Wildcats hadn’t won a close game since Dec. 29 against Tulsa, a two-point victory. That trend was at risk of continuing in the second half on Wednesday, with TCU clawing back slowly and taking its first lead of the night with 4:47 to play. That lead would get to as many as four points before K-State counterpunched.
“We’ve been through a lot of these games all year,” Weber said. “A lot of them the same thing, where we had leads and teams made runs and we get dysfunctional. But tonight, these three made plays.”
The three players Weber was speaking about were senior forward Xavier Sneed, and junior guards Mike McGuirl and David Sloan. That group, specifically Sneed and McGuirl, accounted for six of the last eight points of the game, all scored by K-State, to seal the win.
“We finally found a way to win a close game, and it’s been a while,” Weber said.
It was a revenge win of sorts for the Wildcats after losing twice during the regular season to the Horned Frogs. To TCU coach Jamie Dixon, the difference was big plays down the stretch.
“They made some tough shots, jump shots I though we defended well,” Dixon said. “We got better shots than they did and they made tougher shots than we made.”
McGuirl was one of the key reasons why TCU wasn’t able to make the some number of tough shots at the end of the game. His coach and teammates lauded him for his effort after the game, with Sloan calling him K-State’s “glue guy.”
“He does a lot on the court for us, and sometimes it goes unnoticed,” Sneed said about McGuirl. “And he shined for us today.”
Junior guard Cartier Diarra led the Wildcats in scoring in the win with 13 points. Sloan added nine while Sneed and McGuirl each had eight.
K-State shot 38.9% from the floor for the game but just 25% from three-point range. TCU, which shot 40% overall and 31.6% from distance, was led by 19 points from Nembhard.
With the win the Wildcats are moving on to the Big 12 Championship quarterfinals against Baylor, but it will feel more like a preseason scrimmage than a tournament game, according to Weber.
The Big 12 announced mere minutes before the first game on Wednesday, between Iowa State and Oklahoma State, that the rest of the tournament will be closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with a limited number of tickets provided to each team.
Despite he unique circumstances, Weber is just focused on trying to play as well as possible against Baylor.
“It will definitely be a different feel, but you’ve got to come and play,” Weber said. “Now you got one last chance to be something that you thought you could be.”
He also remarked about the severity of the situation though, saying he didn’t want what has happened in China and Italy to happen in the U.S.
“I’m old, I’m in that group where people die. I don’t want to die,” Weber said.
The Wildcats kept a similar tone when asked about the mostly empty arena they’ll play in Thursday: It’s strange, but it’s still basketball.
“It’s definitely going to be a different feel, but it’s basketball at the end of the day,” Sneed said, conceding “Although we’d love to have a bunch of our fans.”
At press time, games are still scheduled to take place Thursday. K-State and Baylor are set to tip off at 6:00 p.m.