ANALYSIS: Men’s basketball avoids pitfalls of regular season, grinds out win over TCU in Kansas City

Junior guard Mike McGuirl makes a basket during the men's basketball team's first Big 12 Tournament game in Kansas City, Missouri. The Wildcats beat the TCU Horned Frogs 53-49 on March 12, 2020. (Dalton Wainscott | Collegian Media Group)

The men’s basketball team came out of the gate red hot in Kansas City, Missouri, in their 53-49 victory over TCU on Wednesday night.

Early on, the Wildcats built a 13-2 lead thanks to a strong offensive showing. The defense was also engaged, blocking TCU’s chances by limiting their three-pointers.

Through the first nine minutes of the first half, Kansas State went two-three from three and TCU was zero-four.

An alley-oop dunk from senior forward Makol Mawien assisted by junior guard Mike McGuirl and a three-pointer from junior guard David Sloan gave the Wildcats a 25-8 lead.

With two minutes remaining in the half, the Horned Frogs finally got a three-pointer.

Going into halftime, K-State’s held a 28-18 lead over TCU.

“We were playing out of control and kinda trying to do too much early on, playing one-on-one,” TCU senior guard Desmond Bane said.

The Wildcats went into the second half with a pretty comfortable lead, but the grip on the game faltered as the Horned Frogs found their offensive rhythm. TCU knocked down back-to-back three-pointers, cutting the lead to 33-28 and forcing K-State to call a timeout.

It culminated in a tie at 33-33 as the Horned Frogs continued to knock down three-pointers in their comeback bid.

Sloan stepped up for the Wildcats, knocking down a layup and a jumper to take back the lead 39-35. It was back and forth from there on out.

With 4:38 on the clock, the Horned Frogs climbed back, taking their first lead of the game at 46-45.

On the court, it looked like K-State might fall into the same trap that’s plagued the team for much of the season as TCU extended their lead to 49-45 with 3:36 remaining.

“We got the ball moving in the second half and I think we only turned it over three times, but once we got settled in and stayed true to our stuff, we played pretty well,” Bane said.

That wasn’t it for the Wildcats though. They went on an 8-0 run as the game came to an end.

Senior forward Xavier Sneed responded with a jumper, bringing the point deficit to just two. After the under-four media timeout, junior guard Mike McGuirl knocked down a jumper, bringing the game to a tie at 49-49.

Mawien recorded the go-ahead basket in the paint with just 1:18 remaining.

Following TCU’s failed attempt at a last-second three, McGuirl made two free throws, putting the game away for the Wildcats.

“They made some tough shots, jump shots. I thought we defended pretty well — we got better shots than they did and they made tougher shots than we made,” TCU head coach Jamie Dixon said. “That’s sometimes how the game goes.”

This was a big win for the Wildcats who have struggled to find victories this season.

“We learned and grew from all the experiences we had this season and kept growing like I said before,” Sneed said.

The Wildcats will take on the second seed Baylor Bears at 6 p.m. on Thursday.

“I’m just happy for [our players],” head coach Bruce Weber said. “We get to live another day and finally found a way to win a close game. Big plays, happy, team effort, get to play another day.”

Spectators will be barred from this game due to growing concerns about the spread of COVID-19.

“Regardless of who is in the stands — although we love to have our fans in the crowd — but regardless, we’re trying to win the game,” McGuirl said.