KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Rodney McGruder didn’t have to make a splash on Thursday, not this time at least.
The Kansas State senior turned in a steady 24-point, seven-rebound performance as the 11th-ranked Wildcats defeated Texas 66-49 in the Big 12 Championship quarterfinals at the Sprint Center.
McGruder said he took the court knowing it could be the last time he was playing in the Big 12 tournament.
“I just played with a sense of urgency,” said McGruder, who was 10 of 20 from the field. “I know this could have been my last game in the Sprint Center. So, I tried to go out there and give it my all, lay it all on the line.”
McGruder scored his first four points on back-to-back buckets to help the Wildcats (26-6) take their first lead of the game at 11-9. The Longhorns (16-17) tied the game at 18, before K-State went on a 8-1 run, with five points coming from McGruder.
The senior would hit a 3 to put K-State ahead 34-28 with 52 seconds to play in the half — finishing with 12 points at the break.
McGruder’s second half started off quietly, but he hit two 3s and scored a basket in an 11-0 run to help push the Wildcats ahead 56-38. It was smooth sailing from there for K-State.
McGruder was 4 of 8 from 3-point range and finished just three points shy of the K-State scoring record in a Big 12 tournament game. Jamar Samuels scored 27 points against Oklahoma State in the 2010 Big 12 tournament.
“The shots that I took today were open shots, and I was fortunate enough to make half of them,” McGruder said. “And Angel (Rodriguez) found me a couple of times on the break and on the wing. So, I just got to thank my teammates for finding me.”
Armed with a six-point lead at halftime, the Wildcats got an early 3 from Rodriguez to move ahead by nine. The teams traded buckets over the next few minutes until the 11-0 surge put K-State ahead 56-38 with 8:45 to play.
The Longhorns scored 3’s on their next few possessions, getting perimeter buckets from Julien Lewis and Sheldon McClellan in a 9-2 run to trim the deficit to 58-47. But the Wildcats got a key score from DJ Johnson, who finished with a career-high eight points and seven rebounds in 15 minutes off the bench, to open an 8-0 spurt and put the Longhorns away.
K-State won all three games against Texas this season.
The Wildcats edged the Longhorns on the glass 36-35.
Rodriguez thought the Wildcats did a good job getting out and running, taking advantage of Texas’ aggressiveness on the boards, which created easy baskets in transition for K-State.
“I thought we rebounded better and that gave us a chance to actually push the ball,” said Rodriguez, who finished with 13 points. “The coaches were saying that they were all crashing the boards, and if we make sure we get the rebound, we’re going to get a fastbreak situation, and nobody’s going to get back.
“We did that a lot of times, and we got a lot of layups and a lot of easy baskets.”
Texas coach Rick Barnes said he felt his team ran into the best team in the tournament.
“They’re a good team,” he said. “I think they’re the best team in the Big 12, I do. I think they’re the best team in the Big 12.
“They’re set up to win a tournament like this because they’re tough, they’re hard nosed.”
The focus for the Wildcats entering the Big 12 Championship was to improve on the defensive side of the ball. K-State did that Thursday.
The Wildcats held the Longhorns to 34 percent shooting from the floor and contributed to 15 Texas turnovers — including nine steals.
Texas sophomore guard Myck Kabongo — considered an NBA first-round pick — was held to two points, which came at the free-throw line with 41 seconds remaining in the game.
K-State coach Bruce Weber thought his team was better Thursday.
“We had slipped, I thought, last week defensively, both in the TCU and Oklahoma State games,” he said. “It’s nothing against them, they’re good teams, but we weren’t in a position where we needed to be. And I thought we did a much better job.”