MANHATTAN, Kan. -- Rodney McGruder knew he might have cost his team dearly when he stepped to the foul line in the closing seconds and sent a pair of free throw clanging off the rim.
That's why he threw down a transition dunk before the final buzzer with such authority.
"I tried to take my frustration out," he said. "I felt like I let my team down."
The reality is the Wildcats would have been lost without him.
McGruder scored a career-high 33 points and helped shut down Texas star J'Covan Brown on Wednesday night, leading No. 25 Kansas State to an 84-80 victory despite its lousy foul shooting.
The focal point of the team following the graduation of Jacob Pullen, McGruder struggled with the weight of expectations early this season. But the junior forward has been sublime since late December, averaging 22.7 points over his last seven games.
"I told you guys, I'm worried about inflation, I'm worried about taxes, I'm not worried about Rodney McGruder," Kansas State coach Frank Martin said. "I told you guys that."
Brown, who came into the game leading the Big 12 in scoring, finished with 22 points for Texas (12-6, 2-3). But the junior guard was just 8 of 28 from the field and 4 of 14 from beyond the arc.
"I think this is a whole new experience for J'Covan," Texas coach Rick Barnes said. "He's got a big bulls-eye on his back, whoever plays us."
Despite his struggles, Brown still rallied the Longhorns down the stretch.
He hit one of his 3s with 53.6 seconds left, drawing Texas to 80-76. He added another basket after Will Spradling made one of two foul shots to make it 81-78.
On the Wildcats' next trip down court, Angel Rodriguez missed a pair of free throws and McGruder, a 76 percent foul shooter, missed his two. Sheldon McClellan's dunk at the other end made it 81-80 and, after Spradling made one of two free throws, Texas had the ball back.
"Our guys didn't flinch," Barnes said. "We had a chance to win it."
Instead, they fumbled it away.
Freshman guard Myck Kabongo lost it near midcourt, the ball wound up in the hands of McGruder, and he slammed home that transition dunk to put an exclamation mark on the victory.
"Just trying to be aggressive, you know?" McGruder said. "Frank told me to be aggressive before, and I've been working on shooting a lot of shots. It just fell for me tonight."
McClellan finished with 19 points for Texas, taking some of the pressure off Brown. Kabongo had 14 points, and Clint Chapman added 11 before fouling out in the closing minutes.
Kansas State threatened to put the game away early.
McGruder hit his first five shots, three of them 3-pointers, and Samuels asserted himself in the paint as the Wildcats pushed out to a 36-21 lead.
"When he hit the first couple 3s in the first half," Spradling said, "I knew he was zoned in."
McGruder was also getting it done on defense, frustrating Brown on the perimeter and forcing the Longhorns' other guards to score. But the complexion of the game changed with 8 1/2 minutes left when McGruder picked up his second foul and took a seat on the bench.
The Longhorns launched a 19-2 run to take their first lead of the game.
Kabongo got it started with a field goal and Chapman scored the next seven points before McClellan got into the act. His shot from close range made it 36-32 with 4:22 left.
Kansas State finally ended a nearly 7-minute scoreless drought when McGruder checked back in and scored with 1:48 left in the half, putting the Wildcats ahead 41-40. Victor Ojeleye's put-back in the final minute sent the Wildcats into the locker room leading 43-42.
The game went back and forth the entire second half, neither team able to put together a run like they did in the first half. The biggest lead after the break was seven points.
If ever a mid-January matchup was critical to a team, it may have been to Kansas State.
Martin's team stumbled at the start of Big 12 play for the third time in four years, though part of that had to do with the schedule. The Wildcats faced highly ranked teams Missouri, Baylor and Kansas in succession, all of them expected to contend for the title.
The result, Martin said, was some wounded pride.
Perhaps beating Texas will help to heal it.
"We've been walking around like a bunch of young kids that lost their dogs," Martin said. "You can't win games if that's how you feel. When you're zoned in and you're emotional, it's still hard as heck to win. If you're walking around like you lost your dog, you've got no chance."
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