Cats drop Tech for third straight win

By Joel Jellison

LUBBOCK, Texas — By the first timeout of the second half, Bruce Weber had seen enough.

The Kansas State coach ripped into his team during a media timeout after the Wildcats let their eight-point halftime lead slip away in the first three-and-a-half minutes of the second half.

The 13th-ranked Wildcats responded to their coach’s fire, pulling it together for a 68-59 win over Texas Tech Tuesday night at at United Spirit Arena.

“I didn’t think we were ready to play,” Weber said. “We weren’t on our toes, we weren’t in the places we needed to be, and we gave up some easy baskets. They cut into the lead and to our guys credit, every time they made a little push, we made enough plays.”

Despite the 37-29 halftime lead, Texas Tech (9-11, 2-7 Big 12) opened the second half with a 3-pointer from Ty Nurse and a bucket from Jaye Crockett to pull within three points.

Angel Rodriguez scored his third 3 of the game and Rodney McGruder added a basket to put the Wildcats (18-4, 7-2) back ahead by eight.

But the Red Raiders refused to go away.

Freshman point guard Josh Gray scored on back-to-back attempts to cut the K-State lead down to four points. When K-State went into the media timeout, Weber was animated in his displeasure of the effort from his team.

“We knew we had to step it up… get our rear in gear,” McGruder said. “(We needed) to focus and take care of the task at hand and not lose sight. I felt like we came out sluggish and (Weber) just pressed us about taking advantage of the opportunity.”

The Wildcats went on an 11-2 run out of the timeout, bolstered by five points from Martavious Irving to take a 13-point lead.

The Red Raiders would cut the lead down to six points with 6:25 left to play, but the Wildcats again responded — this time to put the game away. K-State used an 8-2 run to push ahead 66-54 with 2:42 remaining, and Texas Tech couldn’t answer.

It was the second straight game the Wildcats won in less-than-stellar fashion. Weber said it was the first time the Wildcats managed to beat a team that played harder than they did.

“They out-toughed us for loose balls, got on the floor, got deflections — they’re very, very active,” he said. “We think we have pretty good defense and they only turned it over four times.”

One area the Wildcats did excel in was on the boards where K-State won that battle 38-20, including a 15-7 margin on offensive rebounds.

Weber said he told the team before the game that rebounds could be the key to the game. Afterwards, he thought it was the difference-maker.

McGruder, who led the Wildcats with 18 points and nine rebounds, said they answered their coach’s call.

“Coach has been stressing (rebounding) day in and day out in practice, and our past games,” he said. “We’ve just been really trying to attack the boards hard.”

Thomas Gipson started out the game 4 for 4 from the floor, and finished with 12 points and five rebounds, including three offensive boards — off the bench.

He said Texas Tech’s aggressiveness actually allowed the Wildcats to get a few extra chances to rebound and get shots in the paint.

“They were hedging up pretty hard and we recognized that a few timeouts and we just started to slip the screens, and that gave me easy shots,” he said. “And it was an easy way to get offensive rebounds.”

The Wildcats had four players is double figures scoring, as Angel Rodriguez finished with 13 and Irving had 10.

The Wildcats battled through foul trouble in the first half, but managed a 37-29 lead at halftime.

Rodriguez hit a pair of 3-pointers to push K-State’s lead to 26-13 with 8:04 to play in the first half for the Wildcats biggest lead.

Texas Tech didn’t make it easy, though, knocking down its shots at the free-throw line to crawl back into the game. The Red Raiders pulled as close as three points at 31-28 before K-State got six points from Will Spradling in a 6-1 run to end the half.

Spradling had a team-high nine points in the first half, while McGruder and Gipson each had eight.

The Wildcats’ next two games will be against the two teams that beat them in Big 12 play. K-State hosts Iowa State on Saturday and then plays Kansas the following Monday in Lawrence.

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