MANHATTAN — The Kansas State Wildcats had issues throughout their nonconference schedule with finishing games.

They can only hope that their ability to close out Tulsa last Sunday when it mattered most was the sign of better things to come and a fresh start in the Big 12.

"It gave us the confidence that we overcame a challenge," junior guard Cartier Diarra said after the 69-67 escape against Tulsa, which pushed their record to 7-5 heading into Saturday's conference opener at Oklahoma. "The last couple games we've had chances.

"It's getting those stops and we didn't get those stops."

That changed against Tulsa, where the Wildcats dug an early 16-3 hole, came back to lead at halftime and held on down the stretch, thanks to solid defense and a timely 3-pointer from Diarra.

"We stayed poised," junior guard Mike McGuirl said Thursday. "We were executing down the stretch, honestly.

"Down the stretch, coach (Bruce Weber) was drawing up plays and we were doing it."

Diarra had a strong bounce-back performance after scoring just six points with no assists the week before in a 66-63 loss to Saint Louis in Kansas City. Mo. He finished with 25 points, including six 3-pointers, and seven assists.

Senior guard Xavier Sneed added 18 points, 6 assists and 4 steals, and senior forward Makol Mawien was a defensive force down the stretch to go with 9 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocked shots.

"The effort was definitely there. It's got to be there all the time," Weber said. "It was good to win and win a close one because we hadn't won a close game.

"We've been in this scenario quite a bit. I hope that will help us in the Big 12, because a lot of times the games are close, and we've been through quite a few of those and we've had that experience."

McGuirl said closing the nonconference schedule on a high note — they had lost five of their previous seven games — was crucial as the Wildcats prepared to open defense of last year's Big 12 co-championship with a noon tipoff in Norman, Okla.

"It was very important," said McGuirl, who had eight points and seven rebounds against the Golden Hurricane. "Part of it was for our confidence. We were only playing one game a week at the time, too, so we were sitting on all these losses for a long time. I think just for our mindset, our confidence, and just to get that rolling right before the conference was huge."

It has been a transition year for the Wildcats, with the departure of senior leaders Barry Brown, Dean Wade and Kamau Stokes. With veterans Sneed, Mawien and Diarra taking on different roles, progress has been slow.

"It's so hard for our older guys, all of a sudden," Weber said. "They thought it was going to be easy to become the stars and they found that it isn't easy.

"But I hope they're figuring out how to become the main guys on the scouting report and deal with it. We won (against Tulsa) because Carti has 25 (points) and seven (assists), Xavier has 18 (points) and six (rebounds), Mak (Mawien) has nine and seven."

It's an ongoing learning experience, one that Diarra said is much easier after a victory.

"Coach (Chris) Lowery was preaching, learn from winning," Diarra said. "We've been learning from losing and it's been tough that way. I'm just happy we ground out this win against a tough team that's beaten us the last two years."