When Mike McGuirl scored 17 points to help Kansas State beat Creighton in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last March it felt like the start of something big.
McGuirl was a freshman guard back then and he seemingly came out of nowhere to star on the biggest stage in college basketball. Surely he would build off a game like that and play that way more often as a sophomore.
That’s what K-State basketball coach Bruce Weber thought, anyway. So you can imagine his surprise when McGuirl flopped in K-State’s first 14 games this season, averaging 2.4 points and 1.4 rebounds.
“Mike has struggled,” Weber said. “I called him in on Monday morning and said, ‘I don’t understand. You played in the NCAA Tournament and scored 17 and ran around with your muscles up. Now you are afraid to go make a play.’”
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McGuirl nodded and apologized, promising to do more in future games.
That meeting is already paying dividends.
McGuirl got back to his muscle-flexing ways by scoring a career-high 18 points during a wild come-from-behind victory over West Virginia on Wednesday. The Wildcats trailed by 21 early in the second half, but McGuirl shot them back into the game by draining four three-pointers.
It seemed like he was back in the NCAA Tournament when he muscled his way through traffic for a put-back layup and celebrated by flexing his biceps in front of an enthusiastic home crowd.
“It was great, man,” K-State senior Barry Brown said. “I think you guys saw a hint of it last year in the tournament, the things that he can do. He really showed what he can do scoring in bunches. He got some rebounds that we needed, deflections, steals just being sharp and playing defense. He came off the bench when we really needed a spark and he was able to provide that.”
That did wonders for his confidence.
“It actually did a lot,” McGuirl said. “It felt good.”
His teammates hope it was the type of performance that can lead to more, perhaps as soon as Saturday when K-State takes on Iowa State at Hilton Coliseum.
Consistency has been an issue for McGuirl. He followed his breakthrough game against Creighton with a total of 10 points in K-State’s next three tournament games and then failed to eclipse six points in any game this season before erupting against the Mountaineers.
Weber stressed the importance of becoming more active in practice and building good habits that would carry over to games. Shoot when he’s open, drive to the rim when he sees a lane, create steals on defense. It all helps.
“It’s real important,” McGuirl said. “Coach Weber has been stressing it all year, to be ready to shoot. So I was just ready to shoot.”
No one gave up on McGuirl when he slumped. He is young and only played in 12 games a freshman. His potential is too big to ignore. He’s flashed it twice now. The Wildcats hope they don’t have to wait long for his next big game.