When the final buzzer sounded in Baylor’s 75-73 victory over Kansas State, all Rodney McGruder did was think of what could have been.
He stood at midcourt with the ball in his hands, walked a few steps and attempted a meaningless long-range shot. He was noticeably frustrated, and so were most of the 12,528 in attendance on Tuesday at Bramlage Coliseum.
A few moments earlier, everything was shaping up for him to win the game. With 20.9 seconds remaining, the Wildcats trailed by two points and possessed the ball. After more than 39 minutes of thrilling, back-and-forth basketball, it all came down to this. K-State coach Frank Martin called a timeout and drew up a play designed around McGruder.
“I wanted the ball,” said McGruder, a junior forward who scored a career-high 30 points.
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When Baylor defenders swarmed around him, though, K-State had to go another way. Freshman guard Angel Rodriguez tried driving toward the basket. He lost the ball out of bounds, but K-State maintained possession. With 3.5 seconds left, it had another shot to get McGruder the ball.
But the Bears tipped away the Wildcats’ inbound pass, and the game ended without anyone attempting a game-winning shot.
“We threw up a lob,” McGruder said. “We came up short.”
It was disappointing for him to see the game end up that way. No. 18 K-State (12-4, 1-2 Big 12) had several opportunities to knock off No. 4 Baylor (16-0, 3-0) and hand the Bears their first loss.
Behind McGruder, who made 10 of 14 shots, including two three-pointers, the Wildcats played some of their best basketball early on and took a 21-11 lead midway through the first half. A combination of 20 turnovers and an inability to prevent Baylor from snaring important rebounds, prevented them from running away.
Baylor went on a 20-6 run to take a 31-27 lead before halftime and went on another 20-6 run to build a 60-52 lead in the second half. Perry Jones led the way for the Bears with 17 points and eight rebounds, but Quincy Acy and Brady Heslip both scored 13 points and Pierre Jackson caused problems for the Wildcats all night. He had 10 points and 11 assists.
“Sometimes people question our team’s toughness,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “I think tonight we showed how tough mentally we have been.”
K-State players would argue a string of careless passes that led to wide open Baylor layups and dunks is what led to the Bears comeback.
“When they made their runs was when we didn’t play offense,” said Will Spradling, who scored five points. “We either put up quick shots or were making careless mistakes. We turned the ball over a lot more than we have lately. That’s something we can’t do.”
Still, every time Baylor went on a run, K-State was able to answer back — until the end.
K-State took advantage of Baylor foul trouble — it committed 27 fouls — and led 71-67 on a pair of Jordan Henriquez free throws with 3:47 remaining. But with the game on the line, the Bears outclassed the Wildcats and scored seven straight points.
“Our guys have battled, they’ve worked,” Martin said. “I respect the hell out of our players, but for us to be in a place where we are fighting to protect our home court. To not close this game out because of a comedy of plays, it’s embarrassing.”
A win, no matter how it came, would have created opposite emotions. The Wildcats knew the difficult task they faced heading into Tuesday’s game, especially after they gave everything they had in a victory over previously unbeaten Missouri on Saturday.
If K-State had defeated Baylor, it would have beaten a top 10 team in back-to-back games and headed into the second weekend of conference play with all kinds of momentum. College basketball experts would have labeled it as one of the nation’s hottest teams.
Instead, it now must regroup before heading to Oklahoma on Saturday. Getting back to .500 in conference play will be the goal. Not exactly the goal K-State had in mind, but in the Big 12’s new round-robin format, no team can dwell on a single loss.
Even one as frustrating as this.
“We’re not going to go home and cry,” Martin said “ It’s 18 games. We’re three games in.”