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Feb 22, 2024 3:34 pm

No. 25 BYU aims to hand Kansas State more heartbreak

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Narrow misses have been the unfortunate theme for Kansas State this season heading into Saturday’s visit from No. 25 BYU in Manhattan, Kan.

The Wildcats (15-11, 5-8 Big 12 Conference) are on life support for NCAA Tournament consideration thanks to too many tough losses. Six of their defeats — five in league play — have been by single digits, including three straight entering their date with the Cougars (19-7, 7-6).

In each of the last three contests, K-State came from behind to tie or at least make the game close before falling at the end.

The first of those games was at BYU in Provo, Utah, on Feb. 10. The Wildcats trailed 64-48 with 5:58 left in the game before going on a 16-2 run to trim it to 66-64 with a little more than a minute left. But the Wildcats could get no closer, eventually falling 72-66.

“At the end of the day, they made one or two more plays than we did,” K-State coach Jerome Tang said after that game. “We knew it was going to be like a 15-round fight. It didn’t matter how big of a lead they had, they would let you back into the game because of the way they play.

“We had to keep throwing punches and wear them down. Late, we were able to wear them down, whether that was physically or mentally. The problem is, they threw the last punch.”

K-State followed that with a 75-72 loss to TCU when the Wildcats tied the score in the final minute only to see TCU’s Jameer Nelson Jr. hit a 3-pointer with 1.1 seconds left. On Monday at Texas, the Wildcats were able to rally from a 12-point deficit with 3:21 to play behind a 10-2 run that closed the gap to 56-52 with 50 seconds left. But once again, they fell short.

Tang has said all season that 9-9 in the conference would get his team in the NCAA tourney. With five games left, there’s very little margin for error remaining.

The Cougars, meanwhile, have won three of their last four, beginning with that victory over K-State. Their most recent effort was an impressive win over No. 11 Baylor on Tuesday, a game in which they held off a late charge. The Cougars grabbed 16 offensive rebounds and turned them into 20 second-chance points in a 78-71 victory.

Spencer Johnson led the team with five offensive boards among nine total. Jaxson Robinson led all scorers with 16 points on 4-of-9 shooting from 3-point range. Aly Khalifa finished with 14 points.

“We were down 0-8, and I felt we were OK because we got second-chance opportunities every time we got up shots that we liked,” BYU coach Mark Pope said. “Even though the score wasn’t exactly how we wanted to start the game, our energy was really good. The building was incredible. We believe that on make-or-miss shots, we are going to be fine as long as we’re really crushing the offensive glass.”

–Field Level Media

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