KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Now that's how to finish.
The Kansas State Wildcats, who have stubbed their toes down the stretch all season, turned the tables on TCU on Wednesday night.
After TCU erased a 17-point first-half deficit and led by four with just over 3 1/2 minutes left, K-State scored the game's last eight points to escape with a 53-49 first-round Big 12 Tournament victory at the Sprint Center.
With the victory, the 10th-seeded Wildcats improved to 11-21 and thought they had extended their season at least one more night. That chance ended Thursday morning, when the Big 12 canceled the rest of the tournament over coronavirus concerns.
But it didn't diminish the performance against TCU.
"I'm happy for them," K-State coach Bruce Weber said of his players. "They grinded it out, fought their butts off. I thought our defense was really, really good."
The finish was a stark contrast to the last time the Wildcats faced TCU, squandering a late lead in a 68-57 road loss on Feb. 15. K-State led that game by a point with under seven minutes left and was done in by a 15-1 run by the Horned Frogs.
So just what were they thinking when TCU took the late lead this time?
"Same thing coach (has) been preaching," said junior guard Mike McGuirl, who had a hand in the Wildcats' last six points with a basket, assist and two free throws. "X (Xavier Sneed) preached it before the game.
"Crunch time, or gut-check time of the game, not folding this time and being ready for it and executing and making the plays we need to make. And I was just focused, and along with my teammates, we were able to gut it out."
TCU took its first lead of the game, 46-45, on a drive by RJ Nembhard with 4:45 left, and a Kevin Samuel free throw and inside basket completed an eight-point run that made it 49-45 at the 3:36 mark.
But K-State got a basket from Sneed, then forced a turnover, trailing 49-47 at the final media timeout. McGuirl tied it on a jumper at the 2:22 mark and then fed Makol Mawien for a layup at 1:19 to put the Wildcats in front, 51-49.
After each team had an empty possession, TCU called timeout with 17.1 seconds left and had a chance to tie or win it. But Nembhard's 3-pointer missed the mark and McGuirl iced it with a pair of free throws at 1.2 seconds.
K-State was led in scoring by Cartier Diarra with 13 points and David Sloan with nine. The Wildcats outrebounded TCU (16-16), 36-27, with McGuirl grabbing seven to go with eight points and six assists. Sneed had eight points and six rebounds.
Nembhard had 19 points and Desmond Bane 16 to lead TCU.
TCU came all the way back from a 28-18 halftime deficit to tie it at 35 on a PJ Fuller 3-pointer with 11:37 left, capping a 15-2 run.
But Sloan answered with a driving layup and pull-up jumper to put K-State back in front, 39-35. The Wildcats led 45-41 on Diarra's drive and reverse layup from the right wing at the 6:49 mark.
TCU, which hit just 2 of 10 3-point attempts in the first half, started the second period by going making 2 of 3 in the first 4 1/2 minutes. An 8-0 run cut the K-State lead to 33-28 on back-to-back 3s from Bane and Nembhard, prompting a K-State timeout at the 15:28 mark.
Bane stretched the run to 10 by following his own missed shot and the Horned Frogs trailed 33-30 at the 13:27 media timeout.
K-State led wire-to-wire in the first half, scoring the game's first six points and stretching it to 9-2 on a Diarra 3-pointer with 14:27 left in the period. A nine-point run put the Wildcats up 25-8 on Levi Stockard's basket at the 3:53 mark.
Nembhard finally stopped the bleeding for TCU with 2:53 left in the period, ending a drought of 7 minutes, 52 seconds.
Nembhard followed that basket, with eight more points, including a 3-pointer at the buzzer, to lead the Frogs at halftime with 12.
Diarra had seven first-half points and Sloan five for K-State. McGuirl had four assists to go with his four points, and Sneed grabbed five rebounds.
K-State shot 35.5% in the half and made 3 of 9 3-pointers, plus outrebounded TCU, 21-14. The Wildcats also forced 11 turnovers and limited the Horned Frogs to 31.8% shooting and two 3-pointers — both by Nembhard — in 10 attempts.