Cats use defense to blast Tech

By Joel Jellison

After a rough start Monday against Texas Tech, Kansas State needed something to get it going in the second half.

The Wildcats pulled a page from their usual playbook, clamping down on defense to turn a one-point halftime lead into a 75-55 rout over the Red Raiders at a half-empty Bramlage Coliseum.

No. 13 K-State (23-5, 12-3 Big 12) needed a last-second shot from Rodney McGruder to lead 31-30 at halftime. But the Wildcats used four steals, a blocked shot and a 21-8 advantage on the boards to put together a half that included holding the Red Raiders to 11 points in the final 14 minutes.

Texas Tech coach Chris Walker said the stats told a clear story of how K-State pulled away in the end.

“They got points off turnovers, I think they got 14 more points off turnovers in the second half, nine points off second chance — that’s 33 points,” he said. “That’s the game right there.”

Texas Tech (9-17, 2-13) and K-State opened the second half going neck-and-neck, but a quick five-point scoring outburst by the Red Raiders put them ahead 44-42 with 14:17 to play.

Nino Williams would lead an 11-3 run over the next six minutes, which extended into a 33-11 scoring run that helped K-State put the game away. Williams finished with 11 points and seven rebounds off the bench.

K-State coach Bruce Weber said the small Bramlage crowd due to the winter storm threat, deserved some credit for getting his team going.

“You know you’re not going to have a lot of people because of the weather,” he said. “I think they take a two-point lead in the second half — the crowd gets into it — we get a few shutouts in a row, go down and score and get the lead and broke (Texas Tech’s) spirit a little bit.”

The Wildcats were paced by a 20-point, eight-rebound night from Thomas Gipson, who played 28 minutes and made his first start since Jan. 26. The sophomore started in the absence of senior Jordan Henriquez, who was in New York to attend his grandmother’s funeral.

Gipson said Weber called for someone to step up, and he answered the call.

“It doesn’t matter if I start or I don’t, I just come out and play hard,” said Gipson, who was 7 of 9 from the field. “We needed some body to step up because (Jordan) is not here and I just made that effort to step up and play harder than I normally play.”

Angel Rodriguez scored 16 points and had seven assists for the Wildcats after scoring just six points in the first half.

Weber said the team didn’t seem to have the right attitude in the first half against Texas Tech. Rodriguez took some of the blame, and said Weber was straight forward with them at halftime.

“He said the truth — he said ‘if you guys need me to yell at you and go crazy, then we shouldn’t win,’ and it’s right,” Rodriguez said. “If there was anybody who didn’t have the right attitude, it was me, and I take full responsibility for that.

“That’s why I didn’t really have a good (first) half. In the second half, I had a better attitude.”

The Wildcats finished the game with a 41-20 advantage on rebounds, with 20 assists. They scored 20 points off of turnovers and had 19 second-chance points.

Walker said the Wildcats did what they needed to do to close the game out.

“I explained to my guys before the game, it’s not like K-State is going to out-talent people to death,” he said. “Why do they win the way they do? I just think they do a lot of great things that has nothing to with flash and dash. They’re really just lunch pail guys and they make good plays when they need to, and they defend.”

K-State opened the game with a 12-4 lead, getting dunks on three of its first five baskets. But then the Wildcats were seemingly lulled to sleep by their own offense, rushing shots and even going two straight possessions without making a single pass.

Texas Tech, meanwhile, cut the deficit to 17-14 with 10:02 to play in the half.

Weber said the team got away from what it does successfully on offense.

“We went up 12-4, we got a little giddy and we lost focus,” Weber said. “We came down and three or four possessions, very uncharacteristic, one pass, no pass, shot. I think it let the air out of the crowd, and they just kept coming at us.”

The Wildcats responded by making one basket and missing 4 of 6 free-throw attempts over the next three minutes and Tech tied the game at 21 with 7:02 to play.

K-State pushed its lead out to 27-21, before the Red Raiders used a 7-0 run to take their first lead of the game at 28-27. McGruder nailed a buzzer-beating jumper to end the half and give the Wildcats a 31-30 lead.

The first half featured a 20-12 rebounding advantage for K-State, while Gipson led the way with 10 points and four rebounds.

Monday’s win marked the 97th career win for K-State’s senior class of McGruder, Henriquez and Martavious Irving — making them the winningest class in school history. Each of the last four classes has won at least 90 games.

Weber said he hopes they aren’t finished yet.

“I hope we keep adding on to that where they get a great distance and maybe nobody ever catches them,” he said. “I think they’ve stayed focused and we can’t look too far ahead. One game at a time.”

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