Bruce Weber said he was mad. Rodney McGruder said he was inspired.
Although the Kansas State men’s basketball coach wouldn’t go in depth about his pregame speech on Tuesday, his senior forward said it helped spark him to a 26-point performance in a 78-69 win over Texas Southern.
It was a game McGruder needed after his four-point performance against Gonzaga last Saturday, a game that saw him finish with more turnovers — five — than points.
On Tuesday, he was 12-of-17 from the field to reach his season high in scoring.
“Coach (Bruce) Weber gave a great speech before this game and that loss to Gonzaga really hurt me,” McGruder said. “It woke me up, it was a wake-up call. I was just really hurt after that game. The way I played and the outcome of the game, I just wanted to give my all tonight.”
Weber said his speech was to the point after the way the team played at Gonzaga.
“I was not very happy, to be honest,” he said. “I just said ‘hey, you guys got to make a decision. You going to be a team or not?’ No matter what we said to them, I’m not sure they understand how good these guys were.”
After scoring 14 in the first half, McGruder went right back to work in the second half, scoring seven points in a 16-3 run that put the Wildcats ahead 55-38 with 11:44 to play.
The senior turned a 3-point-play with less than five minutes to play and then added a bucket with 1:02 to play to push the Wildcats (8-2) ahead by eight.
Despite the 55-38 lead, K-State couldn’t keep up with the 3-point shooting of the Tigers (1-10), who made 13-of-28 shots beyond the perimeter.
Doing much of the damage in the second half was Oklahoma State transfer Ray Penn, who finished with 24 points for Texas Southern, including 6-of-8 from 3-point range.
Weber said it’s tough to defend a team that was making 3s at the rate the Tigers were.
“Will (Spradling) had one right in front of the bench in the first half where he almost blocked it with his face, and if he had gotten any closer it would have been a foul,” he said. “It just went in and he turned to me and said ‘What do I do Coach?’ They got going and Penn had a heat check down the stretch.
“We thought that if we were solid, we would wear them down sooner or later and they would start missing them. Obviously, they didn’t do that tonight.”
With the Tigers down 67-52, Penn scored five quick points to cut the deficit to 10, and hit a 3 with 3:36 to play to bring Texas Southern within nine. Penn and Lawrence Johnson-Danner made consecutive 3s to make it a six-point game with 1:13 left.
The Wildcats put the game away at the free-throw line.
K-State got a good game out of Thomas Gipson, who helped the Wildcats dominate the rebounding battle with a 12-point, 14-rebound performance of his own. K-State outrebounded the Tigers 38-26 and pulled in 12 offensive boards, with seven coming from Gipson.
Texas Southern coach Mike Davis said the rebounding played a major role in the second half.
“I thought Gipson did a really good job inside,” he said. “During the second half, all of the offensive rebounds really hurt us down the stretch.”
It was also a productive game for Shane Southwell, who earned his first start of the season with Nino Williams out due to a stinger. Southwell finished with eight points, seven rebounds and three assists.
Madarious Gibbs and Omar Strong each scored 13 points for the Tigers, who scored just 20 points inside the paint.
The Wildcats opened the game scoring the first four points before Texas Southern rattled off nine straight points, including 3-pointers from Strong and Gibbs.
K-State pulled within one point of the Tigers at 11-10 with back-to-back baskets from Jordan Henriguez and McGruder, but a 3 from Penn pushed the Texas Southern lead back to four points with 14:34 to play.
Henriquez tied the game for the Wildcats with consecutive buckets, but Texas Southern found the answer with a 3 from Strong and a basket from Fred Sturdivant.
McGruder sparked a 9-3 lead from there, starting with four points and an assist on a Gipson basket. The run helped the Wildcats reclaim the lead for the first time since the first three minutes, but a 3 from Penn pushed the Tigers back ahead.
DJ Johnson and McGruder scored on back-to-back possessions to put the Wildcats ahead, but again, the Tigers got a 3 from Strong to answer and take a 25-24 lead.
The Wildcats went on a 9-2 run from there, with four points from Shane Southwell and a 3-pointer from Martavious Irving.
McGruder put the Wildcats ahead 33-27 with his seventh basket of the first half, giving him the game-high 14 points in the period. Strong scored four points for the Tigers in the final minute and a half and had 13 points in the half. The Tigers trailed 35-31 at halftime.
Weber said it was a win his team needed to get back on track before playing Florida on Saturday at Sprint Center in Kansas City.
“When you look at the schedule a couple weeks ago, and you knew you had Gonzaga and Florida, I kept reminding our guys that if you watch, Texas Southern scores,” he said. “They are a team to be reckoned with. It’s a tough game and it is a trap game.
“I think Stephen F. Austin beat Oklahoma tonight, so you get these holiday games, that if you are not ready to play, teams come in and make plays. These guys are for real.”