McGruder, Cats beat Cowboys

By Joel Jellison

At halftime, Rodney McGruder and Nino Williams had combined for just six points.

McGruder and Williams combined for 39 of Kansas State’s 43 second half points on Saturday, including a game-high 28 from McGruder, as the No. 25-ranked Wildcats beat No. 22 Oklahoma State 73-67 at Bramlage Coliseum in the opening game of Big 12 Conference play.

It was the highest scoring output for McGruder this season, and the most he’s scored since he scored 30 for the Wildcats in the second round of the NCAA tournament against Southern Miss. It was the second straight game that Williams had a career-high in points, as he finished with 17. McGruder and Williams combined to outscore Oklahoma State 39-35 in the second half.

Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said it’s tough to beat a team when you let a guy score 26 points in a half — as McGruder did — and you get outrebounded like the Cowboys did — 39-29.

“(Kansas State) made big plays at the end of the game and they made some big shots,” he said. “Anytime you get outrebounded like we did, and you let one guy go off in a close game for 26 points in the second half, you are not going to win.”

McGruder made his presence felt early in the second half, scoring the first nine points for the Wildcats. After Marcus Smart put the Cowboys ahead by four in the opening seconds, McGruder scored on back-to-back trips to tie the game at 34.

The K-State senior then answered consecutive buckets from Kamari Murphy with two more baskets and a free throw to put the Wildcats ahead 39-38 with 15:07 to play.

Oklahoma State would regain and maintain a two-point advantage for the next two minutes before Angel Rodriguez opened a 10-0 run with a free-throw make. McGruder made the most of the run with two of his five 3-pointers, and Williams finished it with a put-back shot and a follow-up free throw to give the Wildcats a 51-45 lead.

The lead wouldn’t stick though, as the Cowboys charged right back into the game and pulled within one point at 53-52 with a 3-pointer from Smart. Williams made a jumpshot and tipped in a missed layup by Angel Rodriguez to put K-State ahead 57-52 with 8:53 left.

The Cowboys wouldn’t make another field goal for six and a half minutes, but instead shot 10 for 10 at the foul line during a 12-7 scoring run to tie the game at 64 with 2:45 to play.

On the next possession, McGruder nailed his fourth 3 of the game to put the Wildcats ahead by 3. And after a Smart free throw made it a one-possession game, McGruder knocked down 3 No. 5 to put K-State ahead 70-65 with 1:35 to play.

K-State coach Bruce Weber said Oklahoma State kept McGruder from getting movement in the offense during the first half, and the senior did a better job of getting open in the second half.

“They did what Gonzaga did, they bumped him off of every cut — he didn’t react very well to that,” he said. “In the second half, he got moving, maybe they got tired and were not as physical with him, and they started losing him. Maybe our guys did a little better job of finding him. We just got in that zone.”

Williams put an exclamation point on the win in the final seconds, scoring on a putback dunk.

McGruder finished shooting 11 of 19 from the field, while Williams was 7 of 11. He said he tried to be more aggressive with his shot in the second half,after passing up opportunities in the first half.

“I wanted to step up and be aggressive for my team, and all of the other guys stepped up as well,” McGruder said. “Nino played tremendously. It was a great team effort.”

Rodriguez had eight of the Wildcats’ 19 assists in his first game back after sitting two games with injuries. Martavious Irving also returned to the lineup, finishing with three points, three assists and four rebounds.

The Cowboys were led by Smart’s 25 points, while Markel Brown had 19.

It was physical from the start, with a foul being called two seconds into the game off of the tipoff. It didn’t stop for awhile either.

K-State’s Thomas Gipson scored the opening bucket, and then Smart hit a free throw and Brown threw down a dunk for the Cowboys.

The Wildcats looked to take a chunk of momentum with a 3-pointer from Shane Southwell, but Smart stole it right back with a 3-pointer of his own to put the Cowboys ahead 8-6 with 15:45 to play in the first half.

McGruder would beat Smart for an alley-oop dunk on a pass from Will Spradling, but Smart answered on the other end with a dunk of his own,

Trailing 16-12, the Wildcats compiled a 12-2 run to go ahead 24-18. It started with two free throws from Gipson and a 3 from Irving. Gipson hit a basket and then Omari Lawrence made a layup and a free throw.

The final basket of the run came after Smart knocked Angel Rodriguez to the ground. Rodriguez came back to make a steal in the post and then dished the ball to Southwell for a layup with 7:43 to play.

The lead wouldn’t last though, as Phil Forte turned a 3-point play to cut the deficit to three points, and then Brown knocked down a 3-pointer to tie the game at 24. Smart gave the Cowboys the 26-24 lead with another bucket at the 5:47 mark.

Jordan Henriquez and Williams made shots on back-to-back assists from Rodriguez to go ahead 28-26 with four minutes to play. Oklahoma State finished the half on a 6-2 run to lead 32-30.

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