Leave it to the kid from suburban Kansas City to help Kansas State finish off a banner day for the college hoops programs that the city calls its own.
Will Spradling had the best game of his career with 17 points, six rebounds and five assists, and the Wildcats upended No. 8 Florida 67-61 on Saturday night. Their win followed No. 9 Kansas’ victory over No. 7 Ohio State and No. 12 Missouri’s win over No. 10 Illinois earlier in the day.
"Whenever you’re shooting it well — you see the ball go through the net — it brings confidence to you and for your team as well," said Spradling, a junior guard from Overland Park, Kan. "This is probably my best all-around performance that I’ve had."
Spradling didn’t even commit a turnover in 39 minutes.
Rodney McGruder added 13 points and Jordan Henriquez had nine points and five blocks for the Wildcats (9-2), who watched a 10-point halftime lead evaporate before clamping down against one of the nation’s top defensive teams and then pulling away in the final minutes.
"We were in tune with one another. We wanted this game," McGruder said. "Our preparation for Florida was great, tremendous. The past couple practices guys were getting after one another."
Patric Young had 19 points for the Gators (8-2), including two with just over two minutes left that got them within 58-55. But that’s when Shane Southwell knocked down a 3 from the corner, and McGruder made two free throws with 1:05 left to create some breathing room.
Kansas State held on from the foul line for its first regular-season, non-conference win over a top-10 team since defeating No. 8 Minnesota on Dec. 21, 1981.
"They were just a step ahead of us, a step quicker. We were late," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "We let Spradling get loose several times on 3-point shots. We gave up some offensive rebounds. We had just a couple plays there where we were just late on some things."
Kenny Boynton and Scott Wilbekin scored 11 each for the Gators, whose only other loss came at then-No. 8 Arizona. Leading scorer Mike Rosario was held to five points on 1-of-9 shooting.
The Wildcats have been struggling in new coach Bruce Weber’s motion offense, and it showed in sloppy, lackluster losses to No. 2 Michigan and No. 14 Gonzaga. But they finally managed to get it clicking just enough against one of the nation’s premier defenses.
"Just a heck of an effort by our guys," Weber said. "The thing I challenged them with is we had to compete for 40 minutes, just to give ourselves a chance. Against Michigan, against Gonzaga, we only competed for 20."
It was defense that ruled this one from the start.
Kansas State built an early lead by turning over Florida twice in the opening minutes, and the Gators responded with a 9-2 surge in which they twice scored off turnovers in transition.
Kansas State eventually settled down on offense.
McGruder’s basket with just under five minutes left made it 26-19, and after the Gators’ Michael Frazier curled in a 3-pointer for his only basket, Kansas State rattled off seven more points that helped it take a 33-23 lead into the break.
The lead was built on the Wildcats out-defending the nation’s No. 1 defense.
"Our guards made some very poor plays in the first half in terms of our ball movement," Donovan said. "We were very insistent on driving the ball and taking runners and floaters in the lane. … We had guys open all over the place. All we had to do was make the extra pass."
Florida started to make that extra pass early in the second half.
The Gators scored on their first six trips down the floor and put together a 12-3 run that allowed them to wipe out almost the entire deficit. Boynton’s 3 with 13:10 left drew them even at 41-all, the closest they’d been since leading 19-17 midway through the first half.
"I just said, `We’ve been here before,’" Weber said. "You get a point where the other team comes at you and do you lay down or do you step up?"
The Wildcats kept stepping up.
Rosario’s first basket, a 3-pointer with 10:42 left, was matched by McGruder’s jumper. A bucket by Wilbekin was matched by a 3-pointer from Kansas State’s Martavious Irving, and slowly the Wildcats extended the lead back to 57-47 with 5:20 left.
Things were going so well for Kansas State that Henriquez, who had been 2-for-19 from the foul line, stepped up and calmly knocked down four free throws in a row.
"When I hit those four in a row, it felt good," he said. "I felt good."
It was a feel-good night all-around for the Wildcats.
They wound up shooting 41.7 percent from the field against a team that had been holding opponents to 49.6 points per game. The Wildcats also ended up with a 36-27 advantage on the glass and committed just 10 turnovers against the Gators’ intense man-to-man defense.
"This was a great win for our team, great win for our staff, a great win for our league," Weber said. "This was a great win for us."