The men’s basketball team (5-16) shot 52 percent from the floor, led by 22 points by freshman guard Nijel Pack, but the Wildcats battle to the end came up short against No. 13 Texas (12-5), 80-77, on Wednesday night.
Senior guard Andrew Jones carried the Longhorns across the finish line with 24 points, just one point shy of his career-high. The Longhorns shot 52 percent from the floor in the narrow escape in Manhattan after Kansas State senior Mike McGuirl’s three-quarter length game-tying shot attempt didn’t fall at the buzzer.
“We are much better than we were a couple of weeks ago,” head coach Bruce Weber said. “Now you just hope we can figure something out. One more step.”
The game showed the best performance in Big 12 Conference play by K-State since defeating Iowa State in the opening conference game of the season. Wednesday’s game also had the most points scored by the Wildcats this season. McGuirl said he was pleased to see improvement, but still knows there’s more to be done.
“It’s good to be in a game, but now it is time to improve some more,” McGuirl said.
K-State got off its best first half since scoring 42 points against Jacksonville on Dec. 21 — shooting 58 percent from the floor. The Longhorns started just as fast, leading the Wildcats 43-39 at the break, which included a 7-0 run by the Longhorns. The Wildcats had some late frost in the half and did not score a bucket from the floor from the 4:17 mark of the first half until the 14:36 mark of the second half.
K-State did get balanced scoring in the first half, led by McGuirl and Pack with ten points apiece. Every player for the Wildcats recorded a bucket in the opening frame.
“We came out and played on all cylinders,” Pack said. “We played hard. We didn’t cut them a lead in the beginning; we sat down on defense and were truly prepared.”
The opening of the second half hit K-State hard as Texas jumped out to a hot start with a 15-7 run in the first five minutes. The Wildcats continued to bounce back and locked down on defense late, but a 17-point hole was too much to overcome.
Weber did like the way his team played defensively down the stretch to keep the game close.
“I thought our defense in the last eight to ten minutes was the best it’s been all year,” Weber. “We stayed in front of them and made them take tough shots and we rebounded.”
For McGuirl, the defense down the stretch reminded him of previous years when K-State was on top or near the top of the Big 12.
“Honestly, our defense tonight reminded me of my freshman and sophomore years,” McGuirl said. “It was fun being out there competing on defense the way we were.”
K-State fought back to shrink the lead to one at 73-74 with under one minute to go but Texas free throws down the stretch sealed the Wildcats’ fate.
Up next, the Wildcats will travel to Stillwater, Oklahoma, for a matchup with No. 23 Oklahoma State (12-6) on Saturday. K-State held top NBA prospect freshman guard Cade Cunningham to just five points in the previous meeting this season.
Tip-off against the Cowboys is at 11 a.m. The game is broadcasted on ESPNU with radio coverage through the K-State Sports Network.