"Sad for the seniors."
"Can't believe it."
"It's the worst feeling in the world," said senior Rodney McGruder. "It's the last time I'll play a game in a K-State uniform."
Those were the whispers in an otherwise silent Kansas State locker room at the Kansas City Sprint Center Friday afternoon following the Wildcats season-ending loss to La Salle, 63-61, in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament.
The day included the wildest ride of emotions during the 35-game season. The ‘Cats were down as many as 19 in the first half; took a two-point lead in the second half; and then lost the game by two … free throws.
K-State trailed by 11 just 5:43 into the game, 15-4, and eventually by 19, 35-16, with 6:04 to go in the half before intermission came with a 44-26 deficit.
Coach Bruce Weber said, ‘I don't know if we weren't ready, or maybe just uptight, but we didn't get off to a great start. I challenged them at half time to have some emotion and to compete. Their answer was, ‘Coach, we want to win.' We gave it our best shot."
Weber then said, "We had our chance, but I didn't draw up the right play … didn't call the right play. It seemed like each guy had a shot, or a free throw, down the stretch and we didn't make it."
K-State scored the first eight points of the second half and eventually took a 57-56 lead on a Rodney McGruder jumper with 7:09 remaining. Jordan Henriquez scored 12 second-half points as K-State's offense was to get it inside against the much sorter Explorers.
"They couldn't stop us inside," said KSU's Angel Rodriguez. "There were no special instructions. We just started being ourselves."
The ‘Cats, however, would make only one more field goal the rest of the seven-plus minutes of the game, plus go just 2-of-5 from the foul line. The game was tied at 60-60 with 4:18 left, but the ‘Cats would score just one more point.
Two Jerrell Wright free throws with 30 seconds left gave La Salle a 62-61 lead. Henriquez missed a jumper at the 13 second mark, and McGruder was whistled for a foul with nine seconds left. Wright made the first, but not the second giving the ‘Cats one more chance down 63-61.
It was Angel Rodriguez that took charge with a dribble-drive that found him on the right side of the hoop. From 10 feet away, he said, "I was just trying to make a play, but nobody was open, including me. I just threw up a hope, hoping to have some luck, but it didn't happen."
"There was no set play," said McGruder. "We were just playing. We were just trying to make a play, but we came up short."
Of not calling a timeout to set up a possible game-winning play, Weber said, "I think it's supposed to be for the student-athletes. All year we've just went out and tried to make a play down the stretch."
However, Weber did say that with 2.2 seconds left, "I yelled as loud as I could to get a timeout, but we didn't get the call."
But in the end, it was as simple as, "They hit free throws and we didn't," said Martavious Irving.
He was right. In the second half, La Salle scored just three field goals on 18 casts, but did make 12-of-14 from the line, while K-State was going 3-of-5.
Overall, Rodriguez said, "We could have made a deep run in this tournament, but we didn't come out to play today."