Not long ago, a blowout win over anybody for the Kansas State men’s basketball team seemed utterly improbable. The Wildcats had just one victory by double-digits the entire season entering Wednesday night’s game against TCU, and it had been 369 days since such a win over Big 12 competition.
K-State smashed that notion – and smashed the Horned Frogs in the process – with a 71-50 win to advance to the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament at T-Mobile Center in Kansas City. After losing 13 straight games, the Wildcats have now won four of their last five.
“We had to go through a tough journey to get to this point,” guard Mike McGuirl said. “Along the way, we started to feel it more and more. We’ve gotten better every game. We can play with anybody. I truly feel that, and these guys are starting to really feel that too.”
During the final weeks of the regular season, the recipe for success was to lean heavily on a newfound lockdown defense and hope for just enough offensively.
There was no change to the stingy defense Wednesday night. K-State forced TCU into 17 turnovers and only 37% shooting. Star guard RJ Nembhard was held in check for the second time in less than a month by K-State’s Selton Miguel and managed only a quiet 11 points on five-of-13 shooting.
The difference was the Wildcats’ offense. K-State topped the 70-point mark for only the third time in a Big 12 game this season by shooting 48% from the floor.
The backcourt tandem of McGuirl and Nijel Pack spearheaded the effort with a combined for 40 points and seven three-pointers. They combined for all but two of K-State’s points during a decisive 16-0 run that bookended halftime.
Now the Wildcats can play with nothing to lose in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament on Thursday against #2 Baylor. The Bears won the first two matchups this season by a combined 79 points – including a 48-point win in Waco that was the worst loss in K-State school history.
K-State players said the coaching staff used ESPN’s forecast of a 73% chance of a TCU win to motivate the team before Wednesday night’s win. There will be no shortage of bulletin board material before the third meeting with the Big 12 regular season champions on Thursday.
“We’re the underdogs here. Nobody expects anything out of us,” Pack said. We’re going to be expecting it to happen.”