Senior forward Nino Williams tumbled to the ground in disgust. His teammate, sophomore forward Wesley Iwundu, just missed a put-back layup earned after sophomore guard Marcus Foster bricked a long jumper, so Williams dove over a heap of bodies to save the play.
He extended his arms as far as they could reach, but no dice.
In a way, it was a microcosm of K-State’s season, which came to a conclusion Wednesday in Kansas City, Missouri, as the Wildcats fell to TCU in the opening round of the Big 12 Men’s Basketball Tournament, 67-65.
The final score was a tease, really. K-State (15-17, 8-10) trailed for the better part of a half an hour, plagued by poor rebounding and shooting that made the Sprint Center baskets appear smaller than the ball itself.
Yet, the Wildcats found their stride late – as they have so many times this year – and rallied to pull within two points with under a minute to play.
Williams’ 3-point attempt with 19 seconds needed to be the biggest shot of the season for K-State, but it ricocheted off the back iron and into the arms of a TCU defender.
“It just seems like we always dig ourselves a hole and have to fight back to get the lead or cut it to however points we needed to,” senior forward Thomas Gipson said after the game. “Our shots just didn’t go in. They were getting layups and open threes and that’s what happens.”
Williams and Gipson helped lead the comeback effort in their final game in a K-State uniform. Gipson led K-State in scoring for the 10th time this season with 16 points to go along with seven rebounds. Williams scored 13 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
“I’m just sad that it’s all over,” Gipson said. “It happened so quick, and right now I’m just reflecting on everything I’ve done these past four years. I feel like I’ve had a great career here. But as far as the game, I’m just happy we didn’t give in. We tried to put up a fight at the end. Unfortunately, plays didn’t happen down the stretch.”
K-State’s offensive woes weren’t evident early. The Wildcats jumped out to a 16-12 lead, aided by a nice boost from junior forward Stephen Hurt and freshman forward Malek Harris, who had four points each after nine minutes of play.
But TCU responded with a 9-0 run spanning three minutes. The run stretched to 16-2 at the 5:42 mark in the first half and then 21-5 soon after that.
TCU sophomore center Karviar Sheperd scored seven points during the run, including an 18-foot jumper in the face of Gipson.
Senior guard Kyan Anderson distributed the buckets for the Horned Frogs, finishing the first half with three assists to go along with nine points. His no-look pass across the lane to fellow senior guard Trey Zeigler gave TCU their largest lead of the half at 12 points, 33-21.
The Wildcats answered back late in the half, though, with three-straight buckets to pull within 33-27. But a late Zeigler jumper extended the TCU lead to 35-27 at the intermission.
The cold streak continued into the second half. After a 10-2 start out of the break, K-State struggled to find the bottom of the basket. TCU took advantage and extended their three-point lead to 10 points with 6:52 left in the ballgame.
K-State was 1-10 from the field during the five-minute cold spell. The Wildcats closed the game 4-9 from the field down the stretch and 39.7 percent overall.
“I’ve used the word maturity all year,” K-State head coach Bruce Weber said. “We didn’t have the maturity to focus and be ready to play every game. We always had to wait for the game to get going, like today, to really turn up the juices. You can’t do that. You have to do it every day.”
K-State finishes their season with a losing record for the first time since 2002-03.