MANHATTAN, Kan. -- It took more effort than most expected or anyone hoped, but the No. 9 Kansas State Wildcats now can look to the end of the season knowing their future is in their own hands.
The Wildcats dispatched a pesky Texas Christian team 79-68 at Bramlage Coliseum on Tuesday night to maintain a tie with Kansas atop the Big 12 Conference. Both teams play on the road Saturday. If K-State beats Oklahoma State, regardless of what Kansas does, the Wildcats will own at least a share of a conference championship for the first time since 1977 when they won the old Big 8 Conference.
"It feels great," senior Rodney McGruder said, "but in these next two days of practice we really have to get after it. This wasn't one of our most impressive wins, but we got away with a 'W.' Now we have to get back to our brand of basketball."
McGruder and fellow seniors Martavious Irving and Jordan Henriquez won their 99th game, extending their school record for wins in a career.
TCU proved anything but a walk-over opponent for the Wildcats, who had many reasons to look past the Horned Frogs (1-16, 10-20). But TCU showed the mettle than only showed up in one other conference game this season, an inexplicable 62-55 victory over Kansas in early February. The Horned Frogs did not lead after 1-0, but they never let K-State get comfortable.
"I felt like we were the most locked in we've been all season," said sophomore guard Kyan Anderson, who led all scorers with 29 points. "We played good. They just played better."
Every time K-State pulled away, Anderson answered. But it was not enough as the Wildcats finally pulled away with an 11-2 run late in the second half. Five different Wildcats scored in double-figures, led by Angel Rodriguez with 21 points. Shane Southwell and Irving added 15 each. McGruder had 13 and Thomas Gipson had 11, including nine points in the second half as the Wildcats pulled away.
Now the focus for these seniors is on Oklahoma State and that elusive conference title.
"To me (Saturday) is more important," Irving said. "We haven't had a championship here since 1977. We've worked hard (this season), and we're tired of KU dominating the conference."
TCU came out quickly in the second half, going on an 8-0 spurt to start the half. The Horned Frogs cut the lead inside single digits for the first time since it was 20-11 at the 10:50 mark of the first half. They got as close as four points midway through the second half, but could get no closer.
"I know for a fact that's as good as we've played on the road (this season)," TCU coach Trent Johnson said. "I don't know if (people) realize how good a basketball team (they) have. They're efficient. They play for one another as much as any team I've ever been around.
"I thought Kyan was as good as he's been all year long. It was just unfortunate that we were unable to get a couple of plays down the stretch."
The Wildcats certainly were generous, getting 27 assists on their 31 made baskets, including 17 of 17 in the first half.
"I don't know if that's ever been done," said K-State coach Bruce Weber. "It's pretty impressive. It shows how our guys play together."
The Wildcats left little doubt in the first half that they wanted to keep alive their shot at the Big 12 championship. They pulled out to a 17-5 lead and never were tested. Even a TCU 6-0 run, all by Anderson, did little but add some annoyance for the crowd ready to celebrate their senior class.
A quick 7-0 answer by K-State, capped by a one-handed slam by Rodney McGruder had the Wildcats back up 24-11 and had fans back on their feet. The Wildcats coasted for the rest of the half, matching their largest lead of the game at the half, 42-27.
K-State had a balanced attack in the first half, led by Shane Southwell with 15 points. Angel Rodriguez and McGruder added eight points each.
Anderson was the only factor for TCU. He scored 12 of his squad's first 14 points and finished the half with 15.
NOTES: TCU already had clinched the 10th seed in the Big 12 tournament next week in Kansas City before Tuesdahy's loss. ... K-State finished the season with a 10-0 record against teams from the state of Texas. Besides sweeping Texas, Texas Tech, Baylor and now TCU, the Wildcats defeated non-conference opponents Lamar and Texas Southern.