Baylor came in needing a win to boost its resume, sitting squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble. K-State needed a win to keep pace with KU for first in conference play. With K-State (24-5, 13-3) leading Baylor (17-12, 8-8) by the score of 34-33 at halftime and 59-57 with only two to play, both teams’ fans had their stomachs in knots all night. When Baylor tied the game 59-59 with 1:23 to go, the arena went crazy. And in a pressure-packed game that featured a little bit of everything, a minor miracle shot allowed #13 Kansas State to hold on and keep its hopes of a Big 12 title alive.
This was the most exciting game K-State has played in the 2012-13 season. Period. The 52-50 victory at Oklahoma doesn’t come close. With 1:05 to play, Angel Rodriquez dished over to Rodney McGruder for a jumper that put K-State up 61-59. With 36 seconds left, Jordan Henriquez fouled Pierre Jackson to pick up his fifth personal, which sent him to the bench. Jackson nailed both free throws as Thomas Gipson came in and K-State surveyed how to manage its final possession with the game tied, 61-61. A time out with 7.7 left in the game (and seven flat left on the shot clock) for Bruce Weber to draw up the team’s final play, followed by another time out by Baylor, simply prolonged the anxiety. During the downtime, the officials changed the shot clock at least twice, alternatively saying it was and wasn’t in effect. And then it got crazy. Shane Southwell airballed a last second shot that went out of bounds. On the inbound, Baylor’s Jacob Neubert lobbed the ball across the court and over everyone’s head. Now K-State has the ball and the shot clock, officially, is not in effect. Because there’s only one second left on the clock. One. And with one second left, another time out is called to draw up another play. And Angel Rodriguez, after searching for an open teammate, found Rodney McGruder on the right wing for the catch-and-shoot. And McGruder, on his only three of the night, nails the shot to send the Wildcats to their fifth straight win.
A stat that immediately stands out is free throw shooting – K-State had been hitting 74 percent in conference play but only made 64 percent tonight. Hitting ten of 14 rather than nine would have completely changed the complexion of the game, putting K-State on the line as Baylor was busy fouling in order to get the ball back. Fouls once again favored the opponent – K-State was whistled 18 times to 13 against Baylor. Yet the defense that has defined this team once again ruled the day. KSU was able to snag nine steals while forcing 15 turnovers on the night as Shane Southwell and Angel Rodriguez both had plays reminiscent of cornerback Nigel Malone; intercepting passes and running the length of the court without ever breaking stride.
The three pointer with one second left pushed McGruder to a team high 18 points to go along with three rebounds, four assists, and three steals for the senior. The team needed every bucket, as Will Spradling only played five minutes to start before heading to the bench for the rest of the game. The team has not made an official statement, but the chest injury he suffered against Texas last Saturday appears to be severely impeding his play. He finished 0-1 on the night, and must be in pain – Spradling has returned to play in games that he suffered a broken nose and bruised sternum, so to come out tonight there must be a lingering issue. Fortunately, Martavious Irving stepped up beautifully in his place, giving Bruce Weber 34 solid minutes while contributing 11 points. Nine of those points were in the first half as Irving was three-of-four in the first twenty minutes to help the Wildcats to their slim halftime lead.
Baylor’s PG Pierre Jackson, who came into the game leading the conference with just over 19 points per game, matched McGruder with 18 points despite encountering early foul trouble (he went to the bench in the first half with three fouls, but didn’t pick up another the rest of the game). Coach Drew Scott made a decision before the game started to put his best athlete on McGruder, and Jackson struggled to keep McGruder from the basket without fouling early on. The situation caused Baylor to experiment with the zone to start the second half when Scott wanted Jackson on the floor without having to guard McGruder, and the result was a defense that K-State sliced and diced by scoring the first seven points of the period.
With Henriquez back from New York and his grandmother’s funeral, Thomas Gipson wasn’t called on to carry the load in the post. Gipson only logged 16 points and hit two of his seven shots, finishing with four points and three fouls – a surprise given how well he has performed recently. Angel Rodriguez contributed 13 points, while Henriquez had 10 in only 17 minutes of action. The Wildcats host downtrodden TCU on Tuesday before a visit to #15 Oklahoma State to finish the regular season. Hold on to your hats, because it looks like we’re due for a wild finish in the Big 12.