MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Just about everything that could go wrong in the span of a week did for Kansas State, from travel problems that stranded players in airports to injuries that put them on the bench.
Little surprise that the Wildcats struggled to put away Missouri-Kansas City.
Rodney McGruder scored 17 points Saturday night, Thomas Gipson added 13 points and six rebounds and No. 25 Kansas State hung on down the stretch for a 52-44 victory over Missouri-Kansas City that was every bit as ugly as the final score would indicate.
“It wasn’t the prettiest game you’ll ever see,” Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said.
Certainly not as pretty as a week ago.
The Wildcats were coming off an emphatic victory over then-No. 8 Florida, but in between was the Christmas holiday — and all kinds of trouble. Point guard Angel Rodriguez was stranded in his native Puerto Rico due to bad weather, and other players also had trouble getting back from the holiday in time for practice, leaving the Wildcats scrambling to prepare for the `Roos.
On top of that, Rodriguez wasn’t able to play because of tendinitis, and backup point guard Martavious Irving had his knee lock up in practice Friday and also was unavailable.
“It’s not an excuse,” McGruder said. “Coach always talks about situations like this, if guys can’t play. We’re prepared for situations like this. We just have to play better.”
Still, it helps account for a ghastly performance by the Wildcats (10-2).
They shot just 32 percent from the field, went 2 for 10 from beyond the arc and were just 16 of 31 from the foul line. Jordan Henriquez was scoreless in 12 minutes after his breakout game against the Gators, while Will Spradling managed eight points on 2-for-8 shooting.
“Sometimes you have to win different ways,” Weber said, and we won with defense tonight.”
Fred Chatmon had nine points and 16 rebounds for the `Roos (4-9), who were within 40-36 with 3:11 remaining before Nino Williams’ three-point play gave the Wildcats some breathing room.
McGruder’s soft floater in the lane moments later helped put the game away.
Thomas Staton finished with 13 points for the `Roos, who have lost five straight, including games against Iowa State and then-No. 5 Louisville. Kansas City remained winless in 17 games against teams ranked in the Top 25, including three defeats this season.
“We were in a position to beat a Top 25 team at their place,” Kansas City coach Matt Brown said. “I don’t think they respected our team. I don’t think they respected our program.”
The Wildcats looked as though they’d have no trouble early on.
Kansas State showed the same kind of tenacious defense that it displayed against the Gators, forcing the `Roos into turnovers on four of their first five possessions. Missouri-Kansas City didn’t hit a field goal inside the arc until the 13:12 mark as the Wildcats built a 20-9 lead.
“We talked about how complacency is the biggest enemy of making progress,” Weber said. “Early on it came easy. Then we missed some layups, missed some putbacks and were not in synch.”
Chatmon had 10 first-half rebounds for the `Roos, and his two putbacks late in the half allowed Kansas City to cut into the lead. Staton’s 3-pointer with just over a minute left helped to trim the Wildcats’ advantage to just 25-21 at the break.
Kansas City kept hanging around early in the second half, too.
After a basket by McGruder with 12:59 left gave the Wildcats a 36-29 lead, they failed to score on their next six possessions, turning it over three times. That allowed the `Roos to score five quick points and trim the lead to 36-34, the closest they’d been since the opening minute.
“We weren’t intimidated by this atmosphere,” Brown said.
Spradling finally managed to get something going for Kansas State, driving down the right side of the lane and taking advantage of a nice pick by Gipson for an easy layup.
Williams’ three-point play and McGruder’s floater in the lane allowed Kansas State to start getting comfortable, and Williams’ driving basket with 1:38 to go ended the `Roos’ upset bid.
“They didn’t back down. We started, I think, 7 of 12 from the floor, and after that it was atrocious,” Weber said. “A lot of things went wrong and sometimes that happens.”