Texas’ hopes for a resurrection in the postseason were cut down emphatically Thursday night at the Big 12 men’s basketball tournament at the Sprint Center.
Kansas State, and specifically, Rodney McGruder, made sure of it. The No. 2-seeded Wildcats overwhelmed the seventh-seeded Longhorns in the second half behind McGruder’s 24-point night on the way to a 66-49 victory.
McGruder’s big night contrasted with the nearly silent nights from Texas guards Myck Kabongo and Sheldon McClellan, who combined on 2-for-12 shooting for a combined seven points.
The loss ensures Texas will miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 14 years and leaves the Longhorns on shaky ground for an invitation to one of the lesser postseason tournaments. The ‘Horns’ 16-17 record makes it unlikely they’ll earn a berth in the NIT.
Meanwhile, Kansas State advances to play Oklahoma State at 9 p.m. Friday at the Sprint Center. The other semifinal game — top-seeded Kansas vs. Iowa State — starts at 6:30 p.m. Friday. The title game is at 5 p.m. Saturday.
“They’re really good,” Texas coach Rick Barnes said of KSU. “And I thought we did some things early, but we helped them too much. There’s turnovers you can’t have. You can’t [against] a team that’s not going to beat themselves. You can’t fuel that fire.”
K-State led 34-28 at halftime and Texas trailed by only five three minutes into the second half after Julien Lewis connected on four consecutive free throws to make it 39-34.
But with 12:00 remaining, the Wildcats (26-6) went on an 11-0 run, which included a 3-pointer from McGruder as the shot clock expired that gave KSU a 49-38 lead, its first double-digit lead of the game.
Texas was quickly down 18 after a rebound-dunk by DJ Johnson, and another three and layup from McGruder with under nine minutes remaining. Lewis and McClellan combined for three 3-pointers to pull Texas back to within 58-47 with 6:18 to go, but Johnson and McGruder answered again with jumpers.
“In the first half, we were doing a great job of staying aggressive with each other, making the extra pass to get others involved with the game,” said Lewis, who led Texas with 13 points. “I think in the second half, a lot of us got out of it and tried doing their own thing.”
Kabongo struggled for much of the game and scored his only points on two free throws with under a minute remaining. He had seven assists but also had five of the Horns’ 15 turnovers. The Wildcats made them pay with 24 points off turnovers.
“We should have taken care of the ball, especially me, better than we did today,” Kabongo said. “At one point we were down by nine and we got three consecutive stops. We just couldn’t score on the other end. That’s the name of the game, getting the ball in the basket. They’re a great team though.”
Kabongo, who missed the first 23 games while serving an NCAA suspension, is hoping Texas is invited to a postseason tournament.
“Just frustrated knowing that I missed those games and couldn’t help my team,” he said. “That’s always frustrating; that’s always in the back of my mind. I know I want to play. Any time you can compete against another team you want to do it, so hopefully we’ll play somewhere. If not, we’ve just got to improve over the summer.”
Kabongo said he has not yet thought about whether he’ll return to Texas for his junior season or turn pro.