Kansas State needed a win to keep to ensure at least a piece of the Big 12 title, with a chance to win it outright this afternoon. Now the Wildcats must await the outcome of KU’s trip to Baylor to see if they can share the league’s regular season trophy. The Wildcats (15-6, 14-4) fell to the Oklahoma State Cowboys (23-7, 13-5) by the score of 76-70, unable to maintain a late lead. OSU’s Le’Bryan led all players as he helped his team dominate the inside, exploiting defensive breakdowns for easy lay-ins on multiple possessions.
Momentum was a fickle thing in this game. The teams exchanged blows in the first half, though K-State was largely playing catch up and went into halftime down 36-30. However, the Wildcats exploded in the second half and rode a 20-5 run to a 50-41 lead with 13 minutes left to play. The streak started just 13 seconds into the half when Angel Rodriguez found Shane Southwell for a three to make the score 36-33. However, Oklahoma State roared back with a 15-5 run of its own and a three-point play by the freshman phenom Marcus Smart made the game 56-53 with 6:21 to play. Then, on consecutive plays Angel Rodriguez found Thomas Gipson inside for easy put-ins, and a three-point play by Rodney McGruder brought K-State up by four, 61-57. However, it was all Oklahoma State from there.
Southwell, who picked up two fouls early in the game, fouled out with 90 seconds left that put Markel Brown on the line and allowed Oklahoma State to extend its lead to 67-62. The rest of the game turned into a foulfest, as K-State attempted to work its way back into the game by putting OSU on the line, but the Cowboys were almost perfect with their free throws and Bruce Weber’s squad never had a window to work its way back into the game. OSU made 13 of 14 free throws in the last 90 seconds, starting with the foul on Shane Southwell.
Will Spradling played as anticipated, but Martavious Irving received the start and Spradling was limited to 19 minutes and six points. After suffering a bruised sternum two weeks ago, Spradling has been unable to practice and his conditioning has been negatively impacted. Rodney McGruder led the Wildcats with 22 points, but needed 15 shots to make six baskets and had three turnovers to only one assist. The only other real bright spot was Thomas Gipson, who continued his stellar play off the bench by contributing 15 points on seven of ten shooting and six rebounds. Gipson did an effective job utilizing the shot fake to get open shots under the basket and once drew a foul in the process. Angel Rodriguez had ten points, five rebounds, and six assists, but also had four turnovers and finished 3-16 on the day, missing all four three point attempts. Additionally, Rodriguez reminded many of his freshman in the final minutes, being whistled for two unnecessary fouls (although the legitimacy of those fouls was debatable), and had a very costly turnover on a possession when K-State needed a score with 40 seconds left and down 71-62. The entire team broke down in trying to contain Le’Bryan Nash, as he often caught K-State’s players out of position on his scores. Smart finished with 21 points, six rebounds, six assists, and two steals.
Regardless of the outcome of the KU-Baylor game, the Wildcats will receive the #2 seed in the Big 12 Tournament while Oklahoma State is #3. Tournament play starts Wednesday the 13, and the Wildcats will play the winner of TCU/Texas at 6 p.m. at the Sprint Center in Kansas City. Assuming a win, they would then face the winner of Baylor and Oklahoma State for a spot in the championship game. Oklahoma, Iowa State, and Kansas are among the potential opponents in that game.