CHARLOTTE, N.C. — His words said it was all about the kids, but Bruce Weber’s face said differently.
Kansas State advanced into the round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012, the year before Weber took over as coach, but he wouldn’t allow himself to gloat.
“I don’t worry about (personal satisfaction),” he said following the Wildcats’ 69-59 victory over Creighton on Friday night. “It’s just (about) helping the guys and preparing them. I put my heart and soul into every day. I love coaching. (I have) a passion for coaching young men and helping them develop. It’s about them having the experiences.
“Do I want to go to the Final Four? Heck yeah. It would be fun to do something like that again. But, at the same time, for those guys to experience this, it’s special.”
After K-State held Creighton to 25 points below its season average, the Wildcats will face No. 16-seeded Maryland-Baltimore County after its historic 74-54 victory Friday against No. 1 overall seed Virginia.
Barry Brown led the Wildcats with 18 points, plus a stellar defensive effort on former K-State guard Marcus Foster, but he was not the main story. Freshman Mike McGuirl scored a career-high 17 points. McGuirl, a freshman, came into the game with 13 points in his career.
“Mike played his butt off today,” Brown said. “He was 6 of 10 from the field, 3 of 5 from 3-(point range). But all the little stuff you don’t see. He had some great defense. He had a great game today.”
Kansas State (23-11) played without first-team All-Big 12 forward Dean Wade, who missed his second straight game with what is believed to be a stress fracture in his left foot. But the bench outscored Creighton’s bench 19-7.
“We told them we can’t replace Dean’s scoring, but we can guard them,” Weber said about his pre-game message to his players. “Somebody else has to step up. I guess the best thing was that Mike and Amaad (Wainright) got a chance against Kansas last Friday to get a little confidence.
“When they got in, obviously Mike didn’t hesitate. It looked like he’s been a starter or played many minutes all year. It had to be a team effort.”
K-State’s defense was stellar. Creighton (21-13) was just 23 of 68 from the field, including 9 of 34 from beyond the arc. The Bluejays were led by Eudora native Mitch Ballock with 16 points. Toby Hegner added 12 and Davion Mintz had 10. Foster, who led Creighton with 20.3 points per game this season, was held to just five points. He was 2 of 11 from the field, 1 of 7 from 3-point range.
“Sometimes you have to tip your hat to them,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “As you look at the stat sheet, we had more points in the paint, points off turnovers were the same. We had more second-chance points. They just made more shots.
“It’s difficult to simulate what they do, because they’re so physical. We just didn’t make shots today, and Kansas State deserves a fair amount of credit.”
Things couldn’t have worked out any better for Weber. Not only did he get the postseason gorilla off his back, he put an exclamation point on the Foster story that had hovered ever since Weber kicked him off the team after the 2015 season.
“He called me over there,” Foster said of an embrace on the sideline after being removed for the final time in a Creighton uniform. “I was going to give him a hug after the game anyway. He told me he loved me and (was) proud of everything I accomplished.”
After the game, Foster tweeted: “Didn’t get the outcome I wanted but that was fun to be able to finish my college career against my old school. I love k-state and everything they did for me in my 2 years.”
Weber was his usual gracious self when talking about Foster.
“I just congratulated him,” he said. “I said all along that I have nothing against him. I started (coaching) years ago. It’s about the kids, and that’s why I’ve stayed in it. I want guys to be successful. I just said, ‘I’m happy (for you).’
“You know, I’m proud that I recruited him, coached him and I maybe helped him get in the right path or right direction.”
K-State scored the first seven points of the game and never trailed. The Wildcats’ largest lead was 64-48 with 2:25 left in the game.
The first half was played at K-State’s pace. The Blue Jays were 10th in the nation in scoring at 84.3 points per game, but at the 7:50 mark the Wildcats led 20-12. The Wildcats finished the half with a 32-26 advantage on a McGuirl 40-footer at the buzzer.
The highlight of the half was a block in the lane by Cartier Diarra that led to an alley-oop from Kam Stokes to Xavier Sneed to put the Wildcats up 25-16, their largest lead of the half.
The Wildcats were led by Stokes and Brown with seven points apiece in the half, and Brown with six. Creighton was led by Davion Mintz with eight and Toby Hegner with seven. Foster was scoreless.