AMES, Iowa — As far as gut-wrenching losses go, Kansas State’s 72-70 defeat at the hands of Iowa State on Tuesday at Hilton Coliseum is hard to top.
With one shot, the Wildcats went from being in control of a pivotal conference basketball game to down on their luck in a wild road environment.
The turn of events came with 1.8 seconds remaining when Royce White, the Cyclones’ do-everything forward, spun free on the baseline and sank a high-arcing shot from about five feet away.
K-State (15-6, 4-5 Big 12) frantically tried to answer back with a last-second shot of its own. But Will Spradling lost the ball near midcourt and couldn’t get a shot off before the final buzzer.
Just like that, a game the Wildcats led nearly from start to finish turned into a frustrating memory.
“We couldn’t get stops coming down the stretch,” K-State coach Frank Martin said. “They scored every time.”
A few moments before White’s shot, the Wildcats were in position to win without any late dramatics. After taking a 36-29 lead at the break, they quickly extended their lead to as many as 14 points. The outside shots of Martavious Irving and Jamar Samuels, who both scored 11 points, stopped falling, and Iowa State (16-6, 6-3) started slowly working its way back into the game by attacking the basket with White, Chris Allen and Scott Christopherson.
But K-State did enough to maintain its lead most of the way. When Thomas Gipson, a freshman forward who led the team with 13 points and seven rebounds, scored a driving layup with 1 minute, 42 seconds remaining, K-State possessed a 70-67 lead.
But everything bounced Iowa State’s way from there. White made a layup of his own on the other end to cut the score to 70-69, then Rodney McGruder missed a contested shot in the lane with 1:07 to go and Chris Babb tied things up at 70-70 by making the first of two free-throw attempts with 49 seconds still on the clock.
When he missed the second, Melvin Ejim was there for the rebound, and Iowa State was able to attempt two more shots before winning the battle for a loose ball and calling timeout with 22 seconds left.
That’s when Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg called on his big man to win the game. White dribbled out much of the clock, and beat McGruder head-to-head for the game-winning basket.
“He had it going all night,” McGruder said. “Why not to go to him? I bit on a shot fake and he hit a shot.”
McGruder took the loss as hard as anyone, but it wasn’t like any of K-State’s forwards did a particularly good job against White. Martin asked everyone from Samuels to walk-on Victor Ojeleye to defend him. But he was continually able to drive past them for baskets at the rim.
“He’s a nightmare of a matchup,” Martin said. “Our kids tried to guard him, he was just real good.”
That’s not where Martin thought his team lost the game, though. He stuck up for them when it was over, and indicated his players might have left the arena celebrating had there been a different officiating crew on hand.
He thought McGruder, who scored 11 points, got fouled while trying to make a shot with 1:07 remaining. When no whistle was blown and Iowa State came away with the ball, he said McGruder got treated “like some inferior player.”
He pointed to Iowa State’s 26 free throw attempts compared to K-State’s 11 as further evidence.
“We lead our conference in free throws attempted,” Martin said. “We don’t do that because we shoot three-point shots — unbelievable. Coming down the stretch we kept throwing it in there. We never shot a free throw. Every time we took a deep breath on the other side Iowa State shot a free throw.
“Still, you’ve got to buckle down and guard, and we didn’t do that. It’s unfortunate.”
The Wildcats must now try to rebound from a two-game losing streak. It lost a similarly close game to Oklahoma on Saturday.
Quite the opposite from the Cyclones, who took in their second-straight big win in front of 13,456 fans. They beat Kansas on Saturday, and are looking like an up-and-coming team.
The Wildcats are trying to remember they aren’t far away from being in that same position.
“They made lucky shots,” Gipson said. “They made pretty good shots. But we didn’t respond to it. Think about Big 12 play. We have another game in a few more days. We just need to put forth twice as much effort … We’ll be fine.”