Shorthanded Cats edge UMKC, 52-44

By Grant Guggisberg

Often times, winning with defense and rebounding isn’t flashy or exciting.

The Kansas State basketball team took that concept to a whole new level Saturday against Missouri-Kansas City in a 52-44 win where made shots were in short supply for both teams.

K-State got only one full practice in with the team as players struggled to get flights back to Kansas after spending the holidays at home. Between lethargy setting in after long delays in airports and injuries to Angel Rodriguez and Martavious Irving, beating the ‘Roos became a much bigger challenge.

“You try to play a game with one and a half practices, and you don’t know if Angel’s (Rodriguez) going to play, and then Tay’s knee locks up in walkthrough (Friday),” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “It all went the other way, but to our kids’ credit, we found a way to win.”

K-State (10-2) got a game-high 17 points from Rodney McGruder with Thomas Gipson chipping in 13. No other Wildcat scored in double figures, though Nino Williams had eight points and a career-high 13 rebounds while also hitting a layup in the final three minutes that helped put the game away.

UMKC was led by Thomas Staton’s 13 points.

Weber said his team hangs its hat on defense, and it made the difference Saturday.

“I thought our defense was really good,” he said. “Twenty one in the first half, 23 in the second, and they really got five or six points down the stretch when we’re trying not to foul them. So we did a great job on the defensive end, and that’s what we are. We’re a good defensive team, we’re a good rebounding team and when we make shots, we can beat anyone in the country, as you saw last week.”

But K-State did not make many shots.

Guarded or unguarded, in the lane or from long range, the Wildcats couldn’t connect. Weber said between travel troubles, injuries and even last week’s big win against Florida that propelled them into the rankings for the first time this season, distractions were numerous.

“I don’t think it’s lackadaisical,” he said of his team’s effort against the four-win ‘Roos. “One, it’s hard to come down off a big high. We had a huge high against Florida, then throw in getting in the top 25, then you go home and everybody’s telling you how good you are, you’re eating Christmas turkey and fudge.

“A lot of things went wrong, and sometimes that happens.”

Both teams struggled to score in the second half, as UMKC (4-9) continued to make just enough baskets to keep things interesting. They trailed 39-36 with four minutes to play in the second half, but Williams’ layup in traffic and subsequent free throw helped give K-State some separation and get the crowd involved. McGruder’s pull-up jumper in the lane on the next possession gave the Wildcats enough breathing room down the stretch, despite several missed free throws in the closing minutes. K-State finished 16 of 31 from the charity stripe.

“We just missed — it’s not really a struggle,” McGruder said of his team’s free-throw shooting. “Last game we shot pretty well from the free-throw line. It was just kind of an off night.”

In addition to Rodriguez and Irving’s injuries, K-State’s Jordan Henriquez was also a non factor, going scoreless in limited action and missing all four of his free throws. For a team that only averages 71 points a game, losing the contributions of three contributors made things difficult, especially when no one else picked up the slack on offense.

“You would think turning them over 19 times and getting 19 offensive rebounds the score would be a bigger margin, but sometimes you’ve got to win in different ways,” Weber said. “We won with defense tonight.”

UMKC’s coach Matt Brown was disappointed in that outcome after outshooting K-State in every category.

“We had a chance to beat a top-25 team at their place,” he said. “Our guys were kind of excited, truthfully, to only be down four at half — I was upset we weren’t up five. I thought we had every opportunity to win the game today. They made plays down the stretch and we didn’t.”

Weber said he hopes to have Rodriguez, who sat with tendonitis, back for Monday’s game against South Dakota. Irving may be out longer after locking up his knee. Saturday’s game made it clear that losing both its point guards will change the way K-State plays.

“You practice 43 days and Angel and Martavious have been the point guards for the most part, all that time,” Weber said. “I thought Will was fine at the point, but now you lose his ability to cut and move and make good passes off penetration.”

Weber said offense came too easy in the early going for K-State, which may have made them complacent the rest of the way. The Wildcats opened the game with a 7-0 run, with Gipson scoring six of those points. Meanwhile, UMKC couldn’t hold onto the ball long enough to get many shots up, opening the game with two straight turnovers. But the ‘Roos withstood the opening dry spell to cut K-State’s lead to four points to end the first half behind seven points from Staton. UMKC outscored K-State 12-5 in the last 10 minutes of the half to cut into the Wildcat lead, despite turning it over 14 times.

Brown said his team didn’t get the respect it deserved coming into the matchup.

“I don’t think they respected our team,” he said. “I don’t think they respected our program…I’ve been on the other side of the coin when you play smaller schools. I know it’s hard to get guys motivated to play these types of games. Our guys looked at it as a challenge.”

The combined 96 points between the two teams tied for the lowest total for a K-State game in the Big 12 era with K-State’s 50-46 win over Iowa State in 2009.

The Wildcats will take on South Dakota at 1 p.m. on Monday in Bramlage Coliseum.

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