Along the way, the duo helped the Wildcats become the second consecutive team to batter a once-proud Texas defense by shooting 50 percent or better. When asked what the game proved afterward, Pullen responded by stating "maybe we're a good basketball team."
"Everybody wrote us off," Pullen said. "They really just called our season down the drain, and for us it's nothing but motivation."
If the Wildcats needed motivation, they seemed to find plenty following a first half that saw Texas forward Tristan Thompson dominate with 18 points and six rebounds. Yet the Wildcats sat just two points behind at 33-31, well within striking distance thanks mostly to a strong half from posts Curtis Kelly and Jordan Henriquez-Roberts, who combined for 15 points and nine rebounds of their own.
Those players helped to mask the Wildcats' deficiencies at guard, with offense-poor Dogus Balbay outscoring Pullen, a Big 12 Player of the Year candidate 5-4 in the stanza.
The Wildcats took the lead less than two minutes into the second half after Kelly, continuing on his tear, knocked in a pair of jumpers. That opened things up for McGruder and Pullen, who began to find more room to operate. Kansas State never trailed again, shooting just under 58 percent in the half.
The low point for the Texas defense came when the Longhorns twice left McGruder, a crack three-point shooter, wide open in the corner. McGruder canned both shots, with the latter giving the Wildcats their biggest lead of the game at 60-51.
The Wildcats held another nine-point lead at 62-53 at 6:23 left, when the Longhorns made their run, using a Thompson dunk, a Hamilton three-pointer and a Thompson free throw to creep within three at 62-59 with 4:45 left.
But the Longhorns came no closer, having a the door essentially slammed shut by a missed J'Covan Brown free throw that led to a run out and a McGruder dunk with 47 seconds remaining. That made the score 72-64, and though Texas closed to within four at 74-70, there just wasn't enough time remaining to come all the way back.
"I'm concerned about the way we are playing basketball; in terms of letting teams shoot 58 percent in the second half on you," said Texas coach Rick Barnes. "Even with all that, it's a five-point game. We make a free throw and don't let them run at us and it's a two-point game. We are better than what we are playing and that is the biggest concern."
McGruder and Pullen, who combined to shoot 9-14 from the field in the second half, finished with 22 and 20 points, respectively. Kelly had 15 points, eight rebounds and five blocks. Shane Southwell hit several big shots and filled the stat sheet with eight points, five rebounds, four assists, three blocks and two steals. Henriquez-Roberts chipped in eight points, eight boards and two blocks.
Thompson set a new career high with 26 points, and added 10 rebounds, three blocks and three assists. Hamilton scored 14 points, Brown had 11 and Cory Joseph had seven assists to one turnover.
As a team, Texas made just 33.8 percent of its shots, and that was with Thompson's 9-for-14 performance. The rest of the Longhorns shot just 14-of-54, or 25.9 percent. At the same time, Kansas State shot an even 50 percent for the night.
"I think our guys have prepared.," Barnes said. "Some of the breakdowns are baffling to be honest with you. I can't tell you why because we have proven at times this year that we can be really good defensively. We have proven that we could be really good offensively."
The loss marked Texas's third defeat in four games, and dropped the Longhorns a half-game behind the Jayhawks in the Big 12 standings. Kansas next hosts Texas A&M on Wednesday. The Longhorns have one game remaining, at Baylor on Saturday.