Men’s basketball’s season ending loss to No. 2 Baylor provides glimmer of hope

Freshman forward Davion Bradford looks to pass the ball in K-State's 74-68 loss to Baylor in the Big 12 Championship Quarterfinals on Thursday afternoon. (Photo Courtesy of Denny Medley | Big 12 Conference)

The 2020-21 Kansas State men’s basketball season came to an end in a hard-fought 74-68 loss to No. 2 Baylor on Thursday, March 11 in the quarterfinal round of the Big 12 Championship. It was quite a turnaround for the Wildcats, who were dominated by Baylor in the previous two matchups.

While the season ended, the loss gives K-State some hope for the future, winning four of the final six contests.

“I didn’t want the season to end,” head coach Bruce Weber said. “I think we were playing high-level basketball. We could compete with anybody. We just showed it. I hope we can use this as momentum going into the next season.”

Freshmen dominated the day for K-State, as guard Nijel Pack and forward Davion Bradford both led the way with 18 points. Sophomore guard DaJuan Gordon finished the afternoon with 15 points.

The freshmen duo were left off of the end of the season Big 12 Conference accolades. Both seemed to take that personally, as each led the Wildcats in scoring in back-to-back games in Kansas City, Missouri.

“We told them [Pack and Bradford] to use it as motivation not getting picked on any of those teams and not getting any recognition,” Weber said. “I think they have made a nice statement the last couple of days.”

Experience won the day as Baylor senior guard MaCio Teague led all scorers with 24 points. Junior guard Davion Mitchell was right behind him with 23 points and junior guard Jared Butler scored 18 points on the afternoon.

“Those three guards are really good,” Weber said. “They can make shots and play off each other pretty well.”

The five guards who made the score sheet combined for 70 of Baylor’s 74 points — nearly 95 percent of all scoring.

Bradford scored 15 points in the first half to keep the Wildcats in the game, only trailing Baylor 36-34 at halftime.

“Davion was excellent,” Pack said. “Finishing, diving, screening and playing defense. All the talent that we know that he has, he was putting it on full display.”

K-State limited Baylor to long scoring runs with only two 6-0 runs in the first half. The Bears finished the half shooting 55 percent from the floor, led by 11 points from Butler.

The Bears turned the ball over 13 times in the first half, but K-State only scored five points off those turnovers. Baylor entered play averaging 12 turnovers per game, and finished with 21 on the afternoon.

K-State took a one-point advantage three separate times in the second half, but it seemed like it was just a matter of time before Baylor would take over.

The Bears built its largest lead of the game with a 12 point lead with 5:30 remaining in the game, outscoring K-State 13-7 in the near five minutes it took to build that 12 point lead.

K-State did not go away however, going on a 10-2 run to make it 70-66 with 1:03 to play, but sloppy play by K-State ended up closing out any hopes of a miraculous come-from-behind upset in the final minute.

Baylor advances to face fifth seeded Oklahoma State in the semifinal round tomorrow at 6:30 p.m.

The Bears finished the afternoon shooting 53 percent from the floor. The Wildcats shot 41 percent from the floor and went 16-of-20 from the free-throw line.

Despite the loss, the young Wildcats showed significant improvement near the end of the season, going from losing to Fort Hays State to beating No. 7 Oklahoma to then competing with one of the NCAA Tournament favorites.

“We came from being one of the worst teams in the country being pretty good,” sophomore guard DaJuan Gordon said. “I feel like we could compete with anyone in the country right now.”

The Wildcats were one of the youngest teams in the country, but one of the best parts about freshmen is that they become sophomores.

“From this here, it feels like we are a whole new team,” Pack said. “It feels like a preview of what is going to happen in the years to come.”

The loss to Baylor provided a lot of early optimism for next season, and Weber anticipates returning for next season among rumors of his possible retirement.

Lone senior Mike McGuirl has the opportunity to return for the Wildcats as well, but a decision has yet to be made on his status for next season. Barring significant losses to the transfer portal, K-State will return the majority of the current roster, including all five starters if McGuirl does decide to stay.