MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Rodney McGruder scored all but two of his 28 points in the second half. He hit five 3-pointers, three in the closing minutes. The senior almost single-handedly willed No. 25 Kansas State to a 73-67 victory over No. 22 Oklahoma State on Saturday.
Then he went home to relax.
And then he got called back to Bramlage Coliseum.
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Apparently, there was some demand to talk to the biggest reason why the Wildcats started off their Big 12 schedule with an important home win over one of the league’s other top teams.
“I got all the way home,” McGruder said sheepishly. “I was talking to my dad.”
He sure had plenty to discuss.
He was 10 of 13 from the field and perfect on his five tries from beyond the arc in the second half, when the Wildcats rallied from a 32-30 deficit. His 3-pointer with 6:57 left gave Kansas State a 62-56 lead, another in the final minutes answered seven straight points by the Cowboys, and the final one gave the Wildcats (12-2, 1-0 Big 12) a 70-65 lead with 1:37 left.
Le’Bryan Nash missed at the other end, and despite two rare misses from the foul line by Will Spradling, the Wildcats had enough to hang on in coach Bruce Weber’s Big 12 debut.
“Rod got cooking and that was great for him,” Weber said. “He got in one of those zones, and we needed it, and he rose up.”
Nino Williams added a career-best 17 points for Kansas State, which welcomed back guards Angel Rodriguez and Martavious Irving from injuries. Rodriguez had eight assists and Irving provided quality minutes as the Wildcats beat the Cowboys for the third straight time.
“They made big plays at the end of the game. Made big shots,” Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said. “Any time you get outrebounded like we did and allow their big guy to go off for 26 in the second half, you’re not going to win.”
Oklahoma State freshman Marcus Smart nearly matched McGruder shot-for-shot.
The athletic guard scored on an assortment of driving layups, pull-up jumpers and free throws for a season-best 25 points. He was coming off a 23-point performance on Monday night, when the Cowboys lost 69-67 to No. 10 Gonzaga in Stillwater, Okla.
“It’s exactly what I expected,” Smart said. “Very physical.”
Markel Brown added 19 points for the Cowboys (10-3, 0-1), but he and Smart didn’t get much help. The rest of the team managed just 23 points.
It was a typical rough-and-tumble Big 12 game from the opening tipoff — so much so that the Cowboys got called for their first foul after just 2 seconds.
There was plenty of pushing and shoving, and more than once it looked as if punches were going to be thrown between teams hoping to contend with No. 6 Kansas for conference supremacy.
Oklahoma State squeezed out to an early lead, but Kansas State answered with a 12-2 run of its own, forcing Ford to call a timeout with just under 8 minutes left in the first half. That coincided with a third foul on forward Philip Jurick, taking away one of its only post presences.
Nevertheless, the Cowboys answered with eight straight points, and the teams traded punches — figuratively, at least — the rest of the half as Oklahoma State forged a lead.
McGruder took over to start the second half, scoring the Wildcats’ first nine points and helping them slowly pull ahead. But then the game truly got into a back-and-forth affair, with two of the league’s best defensive teams playing very little defense for a 10-minute span.
Williams and Smart managed to get into a game of personal one-on-one, too. Both of them had a stretch of nine consecutive points for their teams, playing each other to a standstill.
“We got a little overly emotional. I call it emotionally drunk,” Weber said. “When we stayed solid on `D,’ I thought we were pretty good, because they’re tough to defend.”
The game remained tight until the final stretch, when McGruder heated back up and hit a 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down for a 62-56 lead with 6:57 remaining.
Two more 3-pointers by McGruder in the final minutes put the game away.
“I had some shots that I could have made in the first half, and we were down,” McGruder said. “So I just wanted to be a leader, wanted to step up. Wanted to be aggressive for my team. And guys stepped up as well.”