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Cats stun No. 8 Gators in Kansas City

By Joel Jellison

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The way the second half started, Kansas State had to be thinking, “Here we go again.”

With a 10-point lead at halftime, the Wildcats saw No. 8 Florida climb back into the game in a hurry to start the second half, needing just seven minutes to tie the game — bringing back all the bad memories about K-State’s losses to Michigan and Gonzaga.

Not this time, though.

K-State used an 11-2 run midway through the second half to go back ahead by 10 points, and held on to win 67-61 at Sprint Center.

It was the first win over a top 10-ranked team in nonconference play since the Wildcats beat No. 8 Minnesota 62-52 on Dec. 21, 1981.

K-State’s Rodney McGruder said his team wasn’t going to let another game slip away in the second half.

“We let each other down the past couple times we played against top 25-ranked teams,” he said. “We didn’t want to have another meltdown, so we challenged each other.

“(Coach Bruce Weber) talked about our previous meltdowns against Gonzaga in the second half, Michigan and in Brazil. We didn’t want to let each other down. We buckled down and made some shots.”

The Gators opened the second half on an 8-2 run that cut the lead to 35-31, and then got the margin cut to 36-35 before Angel Rodriguez hit a 3 and McGruder made a jumper to put the Wildcats ahead 41-35 with 15:08 to play.

Florida got a pair of 3-pointers from Erik Murphy and Kenny Boynton to tie the game at 41 with 13:15 to play.

Irving would respond with a 3-pointer that put the game in the Wildcats’ favor for good, followed by a Jordan Henriquez bucket that gave K-State (9-2) a 46-41 lead. Florida scored four quick points to pull within one point at 46-45, but the Wildcats used an 11-2 run to go ahead 57-47, fueled by four points from Henriquez and another 3 from Irving.

At the end, Florida came back into the game with a 6-1 run, pulling within five points with 2:14 to play. Shane Southwell made a 3-pointer with 1:30 to play to put the Wildcats ahead by eight points.

Weber said it was exactly the look the Wildcats’ defense is designed to create.

“Shane’s 3, I thought that was classic,” Weber said. “We moved the ball, moved the ball, and I think it was on the fifth pass he got that look.”

The Gators got as close as five points with 12 seconds left, but couldn’t complete the rally.

“The thing I challenged them with is we had to compete for 40 minutes, just to give ourselves a chance,” Weber said. “In the huddle when they made the run, I said, ‘we’ve been here before,’ I think we did a great job of defending and I think the magic level of playing in front of the crowd, energized, helped us knock some shots down.”

Will Spradling led the Wildcats with 17 points, six rebounds and five assists, while McGruder finished with 13 points and six rebounds. Henriquez had a big night for the Cats as well, with nine points, six rebounds and five blocks.

Florida coach Billy Donovan said his team, particularly his guards, were forcing plays .

“I thought they were a step ahead of us, a step quicker,” he said. “We gave up some offensive rebounds, we had just a couple plays there where we were just late on some things.”

It was a back-and-forth affair in the early minutes of the game until Spradling hit a 3 to put the Wildcats ahead 7-3. Florida rallied back with five points in 13 seconds to go ahead 8-7, and extended its lead to three points before McGruder made a shot to bring K-State within one point.

The Gators (8-2) got their lead back out to three points at 14-11 before Spradling sparked a 6-0 run with a 3-pointer and the Wildcats took the 17-14 advantage with 10:15 to play in the half.

Florida came back with a 5-0 run to go ahead 19-17, but a Spradling 3 started another run for K-State, pushing the Wildcats ahead 26-19 before the Gators got a 3-pointer to fall from Michael Frazier at the 4:27 mark.

Nino Williams and Irving scored consecutive baskets to put the Wildcats ahead 30-22 with 2:42 to play in the half. Henriquez made his only shot of the half and McGruder made a free throw in the final minute as the Wildcats led 33-23 at the break.

Spradling led the Wildcats with 13 points at halftime on 4-of-8 shooting, including 3-of-5 from beyond the perimeter. He said he thought his performance helped spark the Wildcats, and the crowd of 16,303, in the first half.

“It brought energy,” he said. “Whenever you’re shooting it well and you see the ball go through the net, it brings confidence to yourself and it brings confidence to the whole team. It’s probably the best all around performance I’ve ever had.”

Young led the Gators with 19 points and 10 rebounds, while Boynton and Scottie Wilbekin both scored 11 points.

The Cats outrebounded Florida 36-27 and had seven blocks and five steals.

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