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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — So much for extending their season.
The Kansas State Wildcats thought Wednesday night, after knocking off TCU 53-49 in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament that they had lived to play another day. The coronavirus scare took care of that.
With the Big 12’s decision Thursday morning to cancel the rest of the tournament, as well as the NCAA’s decision to cancel the Big Dance, the Wildcats' new life was dead on arrival. The only consolation was, after a disappointing 11-21 season, they went out on a winning note.
In fact, by blowing out Iowa State in their regular-season finale last Saturday, then scoring the game's last eight points to rally past TCU, K-State won back-to-back games for the first time since their 4-0 start in November.
After the TCU game, in which they blew a 17-point first-half lead and trailed by four with 3 1/2 minutes left, the 10th-seeded Wildcats were looking at a 6 p.m. game Thursday against No. 2 Baylor in a near-empty Sprint Center. The Big 12 initially announced Wednesday that the games would go on, but in front of only relatives, essential personnel and the media.
"It's definitely going to be a different feel," senior guard Xavier Sneed said of playing in an empty Sprint Center. "(But) it's basketball the same way — lace your shoes up and go on the court and make the plays."
Now he won't get that chance, his college career over. The Wildcats returned to Manhattan on Thursday afternoon.
K-State coach Bruce Weber supported the league's decision to go with an empty arena and also — hypothetically at the time — to ultimately shutting the tournament down.
"It would be sad. But if they make that decision, obviously it would be an educated decision. We're trying to protect everybody's health and we don't want our country locked down like Italy is right now, where everyone is quarantined.
"It's scary. I'm old. I'm in that group where people die. I don't want to die. I want people healthy, including myself. I got a grandson coming soon — any day now. I want to be able to hug and hold him and play with my other grandkids."
Sneed, after exploring the possibility for turning pro last summer, returned for a senior season in which K-State went from Big 12 co-champion in 2018-19 to last place. The conference tournament offered one last hope of returning to the NCAA Tournament in the unlikely event the Wildcats won four straight in Kansas City.
"I feel terrible for the seniors that are involved in this tournament," Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said during Thursday's news conference to announce the cancellation. "This was an opportunity for them to be on the last night for the Big 12 Tournament. It unfortunately could be the last basketball that they're going to have a chance to play as college kids.
"And so I feel particularly bad for the players. We didn't hear from anybody that they didn't want to play or that coaches didn't want to coach, but we just felt that in the interest of heeding the advice that we're hearing and in being conservative with everybody's best health, that cancellation was the right outcome for both our men's and women's tournaments."
The decision came after K-State had, uncharacteristically for a difficult season, managed to finish what they started in the TCU game.
After TCU went up 49-45 on a Kevin Samuel layup with 3:36 left, the Wildcats locked down defensively the rest of the way. Sneed scored to start the final run, and after a turnover by the Horned Frogs, Mike McGuirl tied it with a jumper at the 2:22 mark.
McGuirl found Makol Mawien, another senior playing his last game, for a layup to give K-State the 51-49 lead.
RJ Nembhard missed a 3-pointer that would have put TCU back in front and McGuirl tacked on two free throws with 1.2 seconds to go that iced it.
"The guys were calling him 'March Mike' in the locker room," Weber said of McGuirl, who had 8 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists.