Barry Brown and Mike McGuirl saved the day. They might have also saved the season.
There is no understating how valuable their hot shooting was for the Kansas State basketball team during a wild 71-69 come-from-behind victory over West Virginia on Wednesday at Bramlage Coliseum.
The Wildcats trailed 20-3 early and eventually fell behind by 21. They appeared on their way to the Big 12 cellar until Brown began scoring in bunches off the dribble and McGuirl started to drain outside shots.
It was the largest comeback in school history, suprassing an 18-point rally over Missouri in 1977.
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Brown scored 29 points to lead the furious comeback and McGuirl heated up for an unexpected 18. With Kamau Stokes and Xavier Sneed chipping in some timely baskets of their own, K-State did enough to earn its first conference victory of the season.
That was the most important thing to come out of this game.
It didn’t matter how it happened, K-State (11-4, 1-2 Big 12) absolutely, positively had to find a way to beat West Virginia (8-7, 0-3). On paper, this looked like one of their least-taxing matchups remaining on the schedule.
The Mountaineers were on a losing streak of their own and they were without shot-blocker extraordinaire Sagaba Konate. Another loss would have been quite the blow. If ever there was a time for K-State to get right at home in the rugged Big 12, this was it.
The Wildcats took advantage … barely. For much of the game, it looked like they were headed for another dispiriting loss.
West Virginia raced to a 20-3 lead that was eerily similar to the hole the Wildcats dug for themselves last time out against Texas Tech, when they fell behind 17-3.
A sparse crowd showed up to watch, and those in attendance had trouble wrapping their minds around K-State’s continued early woes on offense. The Wildcats missed shots from every corner of the floor.
But they refused to quit and made something happen in the second half. Give the Wildcats credit for that much. This wasn’t too little, too late.
They mounted an impressive rally that at one point featured 17 straight points, with most of them coming from Brown and McGuirl.
Brown, a senior guard, has mostly disappointed this season. But he returned to his top form when his team needed him most. Unlike previous games, he attacked the rim with reckless abandon and hit 9 of 14 shots. He also got to the free-throw line 12 times and made 10 of those shots.
McGuirl hasn’t given the Wildcats much of anything on offense this year, but he busted out of his sophomore slump by hitting 7 of 12 shots including four three-pointers. He flexed his muscles in celebration like he was back in the NCAA Tournament.
A full-court press also turned the tide. K-State pressured West Virginia and the Mountaineers had issues holding onto the ball, which led to easy scoring opportunities for the Wildcats on the other end.
The comeback culminated on a three-pointer from Sneed in the corner that gave K-State a 67-66 lead with 2:30 remaining. He made the shot while being fouled and made the free-throw for a four-point play.
K-State scored an astounding 50 points in the second half. It finally found its offensive rhythm.
Still, the Wildcats had to hold on. West Virginia battled back to take the lead and Brown scored a go-ahead layup with 29 seconds to go.
West Virginia had an opportunity to retake the lead on their final full possession and got the ball to Derek Culver in the paint, but he missed with his left hand and Sneed pulled down a key rebound.
The comeback was complete. K-State trailed by 21 and found a way to win.