Kansas State challenges No. 2 Baylor before bowing out of Big 12

By Kellis Robinett
The Wichita Eagle/TNS
DaJuan Gordon #3 of the Kansas State Wildcats and Davion Mitchell #45 of the Baylor Bears compete for a rebound during the quarterfinal game of the Big 12 basketball tournament at the T-Mobile Center on March 11, 2021 in Kansas City, Mo.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Kansas State’s men’s basketball season came to a predictable end following a 74-68 loss to Baylor in the quarterfinal round of the Big 12 tournament on Thursday at T-Mobile Center, but the Wildcats showed off some serious potential before the final buzzer sounded.

Even though the Wildcats (9-20) were unable to upset the No. 2 ranked and top-seeded Bears (22-1) and continue their late-season surge with a truly memorable victory, K-State proved better days might be on the horizon by challenging the Big 12’s best team for a full 40 minutes.

That didn’t seem possible during the regular season when Baylor humiliated K-State by scores of 100-69 and 107-59. But the Wildcats improved drastically since those beatdowns and held a second-half lead on the Bears.

The few K-State fans in attendance screamed with excitement when Selton Miguel hit a driving layup to put the Wildcats ahead 42-41 with 17 minutes, 1 second remaining.

But Baylor pulled away thanks to its plethora of outside shooters. K-State also struggled with how to handle Mike McGuirl and Miguel both picking up their third fouls.

MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell proved too much to handle down the stretch, and the Bears advanced to the tournament semifinals, where they will play Oklahoma State on Friday.

Things unraveled for K-State in the second half, but the first half went about as well as fans could have possibly expected.

In each of their regular-season meetings, the Bears were so far ahead at halftime (56-27 and 54-26) that the Wildcats didn’t need to bother coming out of the locker room for the final 20 minutes. Both of those games were over.

But on Thursday, K-State trailed only 36-34 at the break.

Every time the Bears threatened to pull away, like when they made back-to-back 3s and surged ahead 31-25 midway through the first half, the Wildcats were able to stop the bleeding and keep things close.

K-State could thank freshman forward Davion Bradford for that, as he scored an impressive 15 points in the first half and helped the Wildcats outscore the Bears in the paint 20-14.

In the opening round of the Big 12 tournament, it was Nijel Pack who proved he belonged on the conference’s all-freshman team. On Thursday, it was Bradford’s turn.

The Wildcats needed him to play at a high level, because they didn’t get much offense from leading scorers McGuirl and Pack, who combined for just four points in the first half.

K-State needed a little bit more, but it is fun to think about what this team might be able to accomplish next season if its young nucleus of players returns and picks up on where it ended this year.