The 22nd-ranked Cowboys are now 10-3 overall after losing their second in a row, while No. 25 Kansas State improves to 12-2.
The Cowboys were tied 64-64 and had a chance to get a Big 12 road win after Phil Forte’s two free throws knotted the game with 2:45 remaining on the clock. That was despite head coach Travis Ford’s team battling foul trouble throughout the game.
No Cowboys fouled out of the game but three played much of the second half with four fouls (Kamari Murphy, Philip Jurick and Le’Bryan Nash), and freshman Marcus Smart picked up his second and third fouls in the first two minutes of the second half.
Murphy picked up his fourth with 15:28 left in the second half, Jurick was whistled for No. 4 with 13:35 remaining, and Nash got his fourth with 9:59 on the clock. The Wildcats took advantage of the foul trouble by scoring 36 points in the paint, and K-State's Nino Williams finished with a career-high 17 points after entering the game averaging 6.3 points.
"We keep putting ourselves in position (to win) but we just can't close it out," Cowboys head coach Travis Ford said. "It was very similar to the Gonzaga game. We had a tie ballgame with three minutes to go and we get a stop but we don't get the rebound.
We've just got to finish games.
"Foul trouble hurt us the whole game. Our starting 4s and 5s got into foul trouble in the first half, and that really hurts us because Philip is our one big presence inside. When he goes out we lose a lot defensively."
But if not for K-State’s McGruder, who was 10-of-13 shooting in the second half, including making all five of his 3-pointers, en route to scoring 26 of his game-high 28 points, the Cowboys may have escaped Manhattan with the win.
"We let McGruder just go off in the second half. He's not been playing great but he woke up against us, which is disappointing," said Ford.
Smart was almost as good as McGruder, scoring a career-best 25 points (two more than he scored against No. 10 Gonzaga on Dec. 31), and the freshman point guard did a little bit of everything to keep his team in the game. He finished with 25 points, 5 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 assists while committing just one turnover.
Markel Brown added 19 points and 5 rebounds for the Cowboys, who were out-rebounded 39-29 by the Wildcats.
Smart and Brown were a combined 14-of-25 from the field, while the remainder of the team was 6-of-24.
"I'm not real happy right now with the way we competed, even though we had the game tied in the last four or five or six minutes," Ford said.
"(We gave them) way too many second shots; 18 points just off second-chance opportunities. We let one of their post players, Nino Williams, have a career high, and they get something like 27 points from their 4s and 5s, where we had like three or four. We're just letting people score in the post. They were just scoring in the post too easy on us."
Oklahoma State is now 6-28 in conference road games in Ford’s five years as head coach, and the Cowboys are 10-32 in all road contests in the last five seasons.
The good news is the Cowboys return to Gallagher-Iba Arena to face Big 12 newcomer TCU on Wednesday night. The opening tip is scheduled for 7 p.m.