Wesley Iwundu lost the ball and a mad scramble ensued. The final seconds were ticking away in the first half of Wednesday’s basketball game between Kansas State and TCU, and both teams were frantically seeking a buzzer beater.
Players dove and knocked the ball a dozen different directions until Iwundu somehow regained control, emerging from the scrum with just enough time to pass to Brian Rohleder, who made a jumper from the baseline.
It was a chaotic sequence that could have easily ended differently Wednesday at Bramlage Coliseum. For a moment, TCU appeared to have a clear path to the ball and the basket. And the odds of Rohleder scoring were low. The senior guard entered the day with eight career points, but he shot with poise and good results followed.
“It is pretty cool the way that happened,” Rohleder said. “It’s something I will never forget.”
That’s the kind of night it was for K-State, which went on to win 79-54. The Wildcats (16-14, 5-12 Big 12) outclassed the Horned Frogs (11-19, 2-15) in every way, ending a three-game losing streak and picking up a victory that will boost their NIT hopes. They also clinched a winning regular season, a year after going 15-17.
Things went so well for K-State that coach Bruce Weber was able to rest his starters, play his bench and properly honor seniors Justin Edwards, Stephen Hurt and Rohleder with choreographed exits from the game. After a month of frustrating losses, this felt like redemption.
“It was good for them to enjoy it and for all of us to enjoy it,” Weber said. “They played well, they did things well, we played the game the right way, we guarded well. I keep telling them, ‘We are going to finish on a good note. Keep believing, keep doing the right things and we will finish on a positive note.’ I still believe that. Hopefully this will springboard us to more good things.”
That will certainly be possible if K-State continues to play the way it did in the first half against TCU.
Rohleder’s jumper was a fitting end to, perhaps, the Wildcats’ finest 20 minutes of the season. Seriously, they were almost flawless. K-State opened the game by making its first nine shots to take a 22-14 lead. Barry Brown made one three-pointer after another on his way to a game-high 15 points, and the Horned Frogs appeared helpless. Not even switching to a zone defense, which K-State routinely struggles against, could slow the Wildcats.
It wasn’t until Iwundu, who finished with 11 points, missed a three with 10:28 remaining in the first half that they saw one of their shots bounce off the rim. K-State made 16 of 21 shots in the first half, good for a 76.2 percent shooting percentage, the seventh highest halftime mark in program history.
The rout was on.
“That might have been my best shooting game, especially from three-point,” Edwards said after scoring 12 points. “Playing against it must have killed their confidence, especially when we are making, literally, all of our shots. I even heard their coach yelling at the guys a couple times. It killed their confidence, but on a positive note it is good for us, because it boosted our confidence.”
The Wildcats were also strong on defense, holding the Horned Frogs under 71 points for the first time in three games.
Hurt played a key role on the defensive end, finishing with four points, four blocks and 11 rebounds. Rohleder finished with four points, doubling his previous career high.
That combination allowed fans to witness walk-ons put the finishing touches on a blowout victory for the first time since conference play began.
“It was definitely fun seeing everyone come in,” Edwards said. “We have lost a lot of close games this year, and I feel like they were heart-breakers. We needed this one to take a little pressure off us.”
Everyone knew it was coming when Rohleder finished off the first half in style. K-State went on to make 57 percent of its shots and win its most lopsided Big 12 game of the season.
They finally got to relax. Now, they can head into their final game of the regular season on Saturday at Texas Tech with confidence.
“If we play like this and play focused and ready I think we can beat anybody,” Weber said. “I think we have shown that. We have definitely competed with everybody, but I think we can get over the hump and beat some people.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett