BOULDER, Colo. —First they ran onto the court in celebration. Then they marched to the locker room, dejected.
That was the wide swing of emotions experienced by Kansas State at the end of a 58-56 loss to Colorado on Saturday at Coors Events Center.
Rodney McGruder drained a fadeaway three-pointer after taking an inbounds pass with 1.1 seconds remaining, and K-State players initially thought it gave them a dramatic one-point victory. But the game officials convened at midcourt to review the play on a video monitor and ruled that McGruder released the shot a hair too late.
"I believed I got it off in time," McGruder said. "I thought it was good."
To learn it wasn't was devastating.
"It's tough," McGruder added. "It hurts more than anything. Our team, we celebrated. We felt like it went in before the buzzer went off and come to find out it didn't. That loss hurts."
Indeed, the Wildcats (16-9, 4-6 Big 12) suffered a disappointing loss that could end up greatly hurting their chances of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament. They will now have to defeat league heavyweights Kansas or Texas to finish with a winning conference record.
The Buffaloes (16-10, 5-6), meanwhile, earned an important victory thanks to the last-second dramatics. Their dreams of a postseason berth live on.
For either team, a loss here was going to sting no matter how it came. That's why this one was more about survival than bragging rights.
It came as no surprise, then, this was a slow-paced, rugged affair. "It was a different game," senior guard Jacob Pullen said. "There were a lot of fouls called. There were a lot of missed shots. There were a lot of possessions where we could have gotten a loose ball or a rebound and got ourselves out of this game, but we just weren't able to make the plays."
Next up is Kansas on Monday at Bramlage Coliseum.
"It's a quick turnaround," Pullen said. "We can't let games like this get under our skin."
The first half was an offensive challenge for both teams. The Wildcats made seven of 29 shots, while the Buffaloes connected on six of 21.
"It was a different game," Pullen said. "There were a lot of fouls called. There were a lot of missed shots. There were a lot of possessions where we could have gotten a loose ball or a rebound and got ourselves out of this game, but we just weren't able to make the plays."
Still, the Wildcats went into the break regretting that they didn't take advantage of the Buffaloes' offensive woes.
Colorado closed the half on a 7-1 run to cut K-State's lead to 23-21 at the break. The Wildcats went into the break lamenting the fact they didn't build a larger lead when they had the chance.
"Don't make mistakes early in the game so it don't get to that point," K-State coach Frank Martin said. "We beat Alcorn State earlier this year, my comment after the game was that we can't sustain effort or discipline or focus for extended periods of time. Here we are in February and it's the same problem. Until we don't grow up and handle those things better we're going to continue to put ourselves in tough spots."
Then, in the second half, the Buffaloes found their offensive rhythym and took a 32-25 lead. And with 13:55 remaining, Wildcats coach Frank Martin used a timeout to try and refocus his team.
The move worked, and K-State responded with an 8-0 run that was capped by a Rodney McGruder three-pointer that tied the game at 36 all.
Consecutive three-point plays by McGruder and Pullen moved K-State ahead 42-39 — setting up a fight to the finish.
Burks stole the ball from Pullen near midcourt and dunked at the other end to give Colorado a 58-55 lead, and Pullen intentionally missed a free throw to set up K-State's final shot.
Both teams' leading scorers were slowed throughout the game. Pullen was held to 12 points and Alec Burks contributed eight.
Jamar Samuels led the way for K-State with 13 points and McGruder added 11. Cory Higgins paced Colorado with 17 points, while Levi Knutson added 16.
"It was some up-and-down emotions really fast," Pullen said. "We went from thinking we won a game by a buzzer to losing a game by two points."
Check Kellis Robinett's K-State blog at blogs.kansas.com/kstated. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.