Rodney McGruder might have Angel Rodriguez to thank for Kansas State’s 65-62 win over George Washington in his homecoming to Washington D.C.
Although McGruder scored 15 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, Rodriguez scored 14 of his team-high 17 points in the second half to help the Wildcats win their seventh game of the season and first true road game.
McGruder said he was happy to get the opportunity to go home.
“It’s just great, having an opportunity to play in front of a lot of family and friends, and to do it right here in the heart of the city, right here in Washington D.C.,” he said. “I couldn’t ask for a better opportunity from the coaching staff, setting up the games to get us here.”
Much like that last two games, the Wildcats struggled early. Nino Williams scored the first six points for K-State, bringing them within one point of the early 7-6 deficit.
McGruder took over from there. The Wildcat senior scored 12 of the next 21 points for K-State, which trailed 29-27 at halftime.
McGruder would go on to score just one more basket, but it was a big one.
With the Wildcats down 54-53 with less than five minutes to play, McGruder hit his third 3-pointer of the game to put the Wildcats ahead by two points. George Washington was never able to do more than tie the game the rest of the way.
With the Colonials behind by one point with 1:46 to play, Rodriguez came up big for the Wildcats with a 3-for-3 trip to the free throw line to push K-State ahead by four points.
Rodriguez said he didn’t expect to draw the foul on a 3-point shot.
“The shot clock was going down and I felt like he was expecting me to drive so I pulled up and was fortunate to go to the free throw line and made my free throws.”
Rodriguez made a jumpshot with 1:03 to play and Will Spradling made a pair of free throws to put the game away.
Rodriguez said he was trying to drive towards the basket to create something, but had to pull up for the jumper.
“The jumpshot I made at the end, I was really trying to get to the basket because I was having some success,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to make that shot.”
The Wildcats grabbed the lead for the first time since the opening minute of the game at the 15:48 mark of the second half with a 3 from Spradling. The junior pushed the lead to three points with a layup.
Another 3 from Spradling would push the lead out to six points with 13:43 to play and K-State would lead by as much as seven points before the Colonials made their way back into the game.
Two free throws and a 3-pointer from Dwayne Smith brought the score within one with 10:45 to play, and Smith would make a layup and a free throw to put the Colonials ahead by two with 9:03 to play.
The Wildcats had three players in double figures as Spradling finished with 10 points, while Williams had nine. Thomas Gipson led K-State in rebounding with 12 and the Wildcats won the rebounding battle overall, 46-36.
The Colonials, who had been outrebounding opponents by an average of six boards, finished with just 11 offensive rebounds to 24 for the Wildcats.
“I think the offensive rebounding helped us, gave us second-chance opportunities,” Weber said. “I thought we were more solid on defense in the second half and made them earn things.”
George Washington was led by Smith’s 14 points, while Isaiah Armwood and Lasan Kromah each scored 12 points.
Weber said playing a tough road game was a test his team needed to have.
“As a coach you know that you’re walking into a tough environment, I’m not sure the kids understood it,” he said. “We talk about a magic level, (George Washington) was playing at a magic level. To our guys credit, they hung in there.
“We survived the first half, had a great run to start the second half and then even survived another run by them.”
Weber said he was glad they got the chance to let McGruder play in front of his family and to pick up the win.
“I’m happy for Rodney, to come home,” he said. “I know it was very important to come here and play before his people and then he has a double-double and finds a way to get a win.”
The Wildcats will have nearly a week between games for the third straight time this season, as they will travel to play Gonzaga next Saturday. Gonzaga is undefeated and ranked in the top ten.