KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas State could just sense Oklahoma State’s fatigue on the court Friday, so the Wildcats took advantage.
One day after the Cowboys played a nail-biter with Baylor, K-State pushed the ball in transition for a season-high 16 fastbreak points, and clamped down on the Cowboys’ big three of Marcus Smart, Le’Bryan Nash and Markel Brown for a 68-57 Big 12 semifinal victory at the Sprint Center.
With the win, the 11th-ranked Wildcats (27-6) advanced to play Kansas in the Big 12 Championship game Saturday night, losing 70-54.
“They were tired, I think our guys noticed it,” K-State head coach Bruce Weber said. “They kept coming in the huddles, and I think when those guys were out the first half, (the three) came back in, they forced a few things.
“We got some transition and they kept pulling Smart in and out. That means he must have been having some weary legs.”
For the second straight game, Rodney McGruder was the leading scorer for the Wildcats, scoring 25 points and adding nine rebounds. And he even took over the game at times.
The Wildcats led 28-23 at halftime and McGruder opened the half by orchestrating a 9-2 run all on his own to push K-State ahead 37-25.
Oklahoma State pushed right back, though, cutting the Cats’ lead to six points. Shane Southwell put an end to the Cowboys’ surge with a 3-pointer. Angel Rodriguez then answered an OSU basket with another 3 as part of another 9-2 run to put the Wildcats ahead 46-33.
The 14th-ranked Cowboys managed to get as close as eight points, but never closer as the Wildcats ran away with the victory.
Nash scored 24 points and Smart added 21 in the last matchup between the teams a week ago in Stillwater — both shooting high percentages from the floor. But this time it was different, as Smart had 18 points on 6-of-17 shooting and Nash had 11 points on 2 of 7 from the field.
McGruder said that’s where the defense and transition game entered in, forcing the Cowboys to take shots they didn’t want, and turning it into points on the other end.
“We forced them to take some bad shots,” said Mcgruder, who was 8 of 14 from the field. “That allowed us to push the ball a little bit on the break, and we got baskets.”
Rodriguez, who finished with 17 points, said he saw the chance to push past the Cowboys in the first half. Trailing 17-12, Southwell sparked a 10-0 run with a 3-pointer that helped K-State go ahead 22-17.
“We saw they were tired by the end of the first half,” Rodriguez said. “So, the beauty of our team is we’re deep and a lot of people can play for us and help us, and that’s what we did.
“We rotated our line and we got out in transition. And pretty much every time we went into transition, something positive happened.”
Oklahoma State entered the contest allowing opponents to a low 5.6 fastbreak points per game. But Southwell said the Cowboys’ fatigue played a factor in OSU’s ability to get back on defense.
Southwell also said it was tough for the Cowboys to compete with the Wildcats’ will to win, especially after K-State lost the regular-season finale in Stillwater.
“We wanted this one bad,” he said. “They recently beat us and it was a game for the championship. No matter who we played, it was big for us.”
The Wildcats and Cowboys finished with 40 rebounds and 14 turnovers apiece, but K-State edged the Pokes 14-10 on assists.
K-State got a gritty performance from Jordan Henriquez, who has been limited the past few games by a back injury. Henriquez finished the game with eight points, 11 rebounds and three blocks in 22 minutes.