COLUMBIA, Mo. — With the momentum tilting heavily in Missouri’s favor, Kansas State’s Rodney McGruder became the resistive force that stopped the Tigers’ momentum in its tracks.
Missouri, which had just executed a 15-2 run to get within three with 6:33 remaining, saw McGruder bury a 3 from the wing and then another jumper on the ensuing possession — both against a zone defense — to give K-State a 68-62 lead.
“Those are two big-time plays by a big-time kid in a moment where the team needed someone to go do it and he did it,” K-State coach Frank Martin said.
“That 3 he hit was a huge shot,” Missouri coach Frank Haith added.
McGruder hit a lot of big shots in K-State’s 78-68 victory over third-ranked Missouri on Tuesday. The junior guard scored 24 points on 7-of-14 shooting, made all eight of his free-throw attempts, had two assists to zero turnovers and played a key role in the Wildcats’ strong defensive effort.
“He’s a good player,” Haith said. “He’s under the radar. He’s one of the better players in this league. He played well against us in Manhattan. He made some big shots and their team made some big plays. You’ve got to give them credit, they made big plays when they needed to all day long.”
McGruder scored 15 points in K-State’s win at Baylor last Saturday. That performance, coupled with Tuesday’s game, is a sign that the 6-foot-4 guard is getting back into an offensive rhythm after battling a toe injury he suffered in a loss at Iowa State on Jan. 31.
“There are some guys that say ‘I’m a game player; I just show up and play in games, I don’t need to work,’” Martin said. “Rod is the complete opposite. He’s wired for repetition.
“I wouldn’t let him practice. He was trying to kill me to let him practice, but he needed that foot to heal because if not, that foot would still be hurting right now and he couldn’t produce as well as he wanted to.”
McGruder, being the type of leader he is, could only obey Martin’s order for so long before finding his way back into practice.
“He saw that we were losing a little bit and he wasn’t playing as well. He just walked out and said, ‘I’m practicing,’” Martin recalled. “He walked on the floor and practiced.
“As a coach, when you know your guys and know how important this is for them that they’re willing to go practice, even though they’re not fully healed, how can you hold them back? You’re starting to see him wired again the way he was before that foot got messed up.”
Haith says team struggled with physical play
Haith said he wasn’t calling out the officials for the job they did in Tuesday’s game, but in a roundabout way, it sure sounded like it.
“The way (K-State) plays the game, they’re very aggressive and physical,” he said. “We normally get to the line. We didn’t get to the line tonight — 14-for-20 in a game like this — I think we probably should get to the line a little bit more but we didn’t.
“That’s not officials. I’m saying maybe we weren’t attacking like we should when teams play that way. I feel like when teams are aggressive you’ve got to match their physicality and be aggressive too.”
K-State, which made 10-of-12 from the foul line in the first half, didn’t attempt its first free throw of the second half until the 2:56-mark. The Wildcats finished making 16-of-22 from the line, though most of the second-half attempts came when Missouri was forced to foul.
The Tigers attempted 26 3-pointers, while K-State pounded the ball inside, shooting just nine 3s. The number of 3-point attempts for the Tigers was partially due to K-State’s physicality inside, which led to the Tigers settling, Haith said.
“When you’re coming across the lane, there’s chesting, there’s bumping, a lot of stuff going on off the ball,” he said. “We haven’t played well in those types of games when the game is officiated that way. They were just physical off the ball — very physical.
“We were coming up to set a ball screen, they’re bodying us, and that’s the way they play, knocking us off and we didn’t adjust to that.”
Henriquez sets record
Jordan Henriquez blocked four shots on Tuesday, giving the junior the school’s all-time record with 125 blocked shots in his career. The record was previously held by Manny Dies with 121 blocks.
Strong defense continues
Over the past three games, K-State has faced the top three scoring and shooting offenses in the Big 12. The result: Three of the best defensive performances of the season. K-State held all three to below 40 percent from the floor.
Difficult road win
Missouri had won 66 of its last 69 home games prior to Tuesday. Martin had yet to win at Missouri as the K-State head coach. The last time K-State had won there came in 2006 when Bob Huggins was the Wildcats’ coach.
Phil Pressey struggles against Wildcats
Phil Pressey, the Tigers’ sophomore point guard, who is second in Big 12 play with a 2.3 assist-to-turnover ratio, had seven assists and six turnovers against K-State.
Cox Cable loses feed
Cox cable customers in Manhattan and some other areas of the state lost the feed of the K-State-Missouri game for approximately three minutes of less, a Cox spokesperson said today.
A technical issue caused the outage, according to spokesperson Sarah Kaufman. That potentially affected customers in Manhattan, Wichita, Dodge City and Topeka, she said.
The feed of ESPN2 went out late in the second half but was restored prior to the end of the game. Kaufman said viewers watching the game on HD did not have the problem, but those on a standard-definition view did. The issue arose due to Cox rebooting a receiver to fix a problem with closed-captioning, she said, and apologized for the problem.