Kansas State basketball players were too smart to publicly say which team they preferred to win the opening game of the Big 12 Tournament on Wednesday at Sprint Center.
They wisely stayed neutral on the topic, not wanting to provide bulletin-board material to Oklahoma State or TCU.
But, if we’re being honest, it goes without saying the Wildcats would have had an easier time against the Cowboys in the quarterfinals than they will against the Horned Frogs at about 2 p.m. on Thursday.
K-State swept both teams in the regular season, but they had a much easier time winning those games against Oklahoma State (average victory margin: 28.5) than TCU (average victory margin: 11.5). One team made the regular season Big 12 champions laugh, the other made them sweat.
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So this will be no automatic win for the top-seeded Wildcats.
The Horned Frogs were all over the map during a 73-70 victory over the Cowboys. At first, they looked like a team determined to continue playing in the NCAA Tournament and built a 21-point lead behind the hot shooting of Kouat Noi and Kevin Samuel. Later, they looked like a team hell bent on playing in the NIT.
Oklahoma State not only mounted a comeback against TCU, it took the lead on a pair of Lindy Waters free throws with 26.1 seconds remaining.
The Sprint Center crowd roared hoping to see the event begin with a come-from-behind victory. And it looked like Oklahoma State was going to pull it off leading 70-68.
But TCU answered with a three-pointer from Desmond Bane with 16 seconds remaining and then survived a go-ahead attempt from Lindy Waters in the final seconds.
The Horned Frogs coughed up a 21-point lead and won anyway. You don’t see that every day.
“We’ve been here before, as far as keeping our composure,” Bane said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that have played a lot of those games, and on my last play ... I was open and I just shot it.”
Noi led all scorers with 20 points and Bane added 15.
Overland Park native Yor Anei was the catalyst of Oklahoma State’s comeback attempt. The freshman forward finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds, an effort that should put other teams in the conference on alert about his potential as he matures.
“It just felt normal to me,” Anei said of his performance late in the game. “I was trying to block everything that came to the rim and I was trying to get the stops for our team that we needed to win us the game.”
Waters also had 17 points. Give Mike Boynton’s team credit for trying. Oklahoma State fought hard to get back in this game.
Alas, it will end its season with just 12 victories. TCU hit the 20-win mark.
K-State won its first meeting with TCU 65-55 at home, but that game can probably be thrown out the window because the Horned Frogs didn’t have Noi. They went with a zone defense, which they rarely do under coach Jamie Dixon and Xavier Sneed led all scorers with 18 points.
That was the game he threw down two monster alley-oop dunks that seemed to break the Horned Frogs’ spirit on the road.
The Wildcats won the rematch less than two weeks ago 64-52 behind 16 points from Barry Brown and 15 more from Kamau Stokes. They pulled ahead by as many 21 points in the second half and held off the Horned Frogs from there.
A rubber match will be interesting. K-State will be without Wade in this game, and Bruce Weber will probably insert Austin Trice into the starting lineup to try and combat the size of Samuel and Noi inside.
The Wildcats have had trouble winning at times this season without Wade, but they expect to have Cartier Diarra back in the lineup. That should help.
The Horned Frogs are skilled enough to pose problems for the Wildcats inside, but they run hot and cold from the three-point line and lack depth.
That could be a deciding factor in this game. TCU only uses a seven-man rotation and fatigue could be a factor playing games on back-to-back days.