“I think we have to take a playoff mentality.”
Those were the words echoed by senior forward Wesley Iwundu before Wednesday’s game against TCU. Iwundu was not talking about March Madness or the Big 12 Championship that is still a week away. Instead he was talking about the situation the Kansas State men’s basketball team put themselves in.
The Wildcats have struggled down the stretch and, after a blowout loss to last-place Oklahoma Saturday, find themselves on the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble. The loss forced K-State’s remaining two games against TCU and Texas Tech to essentially become elimination games.
If K-State wins they have a chance to be in, but if they lose, the season comes to another disappointing conclusion.
“In a way it’s a playoff mentality,” head coach Bruce Weber said. “I said yesterday to all the guys, ‘This is it…let’s just worry about this week, we have a one-week season that starts Wednesday against TCU.'”
The Wildcats started off that one-week season well on Wednesday night when they took care of TCU on the road. The Cats led at halftime 40-29, but the Horned Frogs would not let up without a fight. TCU pulled up within two points with under 30 seconds remaining, but K-State players sunk their free throws and finished out the 75-74 victory.
Iwundu and sophomore forward Dean Wade both had a big night for the Wildcats. Iwundu finished with 16 points, 10 rebounds and four assists in his K-State record 119th start. Wade made some clutch baskets late in the game on his way to 20 points.
“Just a total team win by our guys,” Weber said to K-State Sports. “Obviously, (Wade) hit a huge 3-pointer, but everyone played a part in this victory. (Iwundu) had a double-double, while Kam (Stokes) and D.J. (Johnson) made huge free throws down the stretch. I couldn’t be happier for our guys for how they responded after the loss at Oklahoma. But our focus now turns to Saturday and another big game against Texas Tech.”
The Wildcats will now host Texas Tech (18-12, 6-11) Saturday in their season finale. The game will also serve as senior night for five Wildcats: Austin Budke, Carlbe Ervin II, Wesley Iwundu, D.J. Johnson and Zach Winter.
Texas Tech has struggled in Big 12 play, similar to K-State. The Red Raiders have shown to be capable of beating good teams, they took down Baylor and West Virginia, but have struggled in many winnable games and have won just two of their last seven. They are coming off a 67-57 win over Texas on Wednesday.
The first match-up between these two teams, on Jan. 10 in Lubbock, Texas, went in the Red Raiders’ favor, albeit with a little drama.
Down one point with less than 10 seconds remaining, sophomore guard Barry Brown looked like he might have been hit in the face while going up for the layup, but no call was made and the layup was missed. Weber was assessed a technical foul for arguing with the referees, and the Red Raiders finished off the game with some free throws to win 66-65.
The Wildcats and Red Raiders will battle it out one more time this season Saturday at noon in Bramlage Coliseum. The game can be seen on ESPNews.