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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Kansas State blows out No. 7 Missouri 75-59

BY RUSTIN DODD
Kansas City Star

MANHATTAN — Thirty minutes after Kansas State's overwhelming 75-59 victory over Missouri on Saturday afternoon, Will Spradling and Rodney McGruder were walking and laughing.

The K-State teammates were side by side, moving toward a pack of reporters, both focused in on the screen of Spradling's cell phone. For two hours inside Bramlage Coliseum, the No. 23 Wildcats had issued No. 7 Missouri a brutal reminder about the physicality and toughness of Big 12 basketball.

In the aftermath, the text and Twitter messages were pinging from Manhattan to Columbia, more reminders about Kansas State's domination of a previously unbeaten Missouri squad.

"This one's about Denmon," Spradling said, smiling and looking back at McGruder.

Denmon, of course, is Marcus Denmon, Missouri's leading scorer and offensive leader. And just a little while earlier, former K-State guard Jacob Pullen had chimed in on Twitter about Missouri, posting this: "I don't like that team, (they) always thought they were better than they were... especially (Mike) Dixon and (Denmon) #trash."

Spradling and McGruder were savoring a victory instead of grimacing in defeat, and perhaps it showed how far they'd come in three days. After falling against Kansas on Wednesday, a humbling loss at Allen Fieldhouse to open the Big 12 season, the Wildcats responded with a performance that dripped with the characteristics of a Frank Martin-coached team.

"When you get embarrassed," Martin said, "one of two things happens to your team. You either come apart at the seams or the seams get a little tighter together."

By late Saturday, it appeared the seams had been fortified by a dominating defensive effort. The Tigers, utilizing a quick and dangerous four-guard lineup, had entered Saturday averaging 86.2 points, second-highest in the nation.

But during the days after the Kansas loss, Spradling said the Wildcats entered the practice gym with a new mission. The practices before the Kansas game had been lacking, Spradling said, and the Wildcats couldn't afford an 0-2 start in the Big 12.

"It was the toughest practices we've had," Spradling said.

So when the game tipped on Saturday, the Wildcats lived in the passing lanes, forcing the smaller Tigers to drive or work off pick-and-rolls. When Missouri did break through K-State's exterior, Jordan Henriquez and Thomas Gipson were there to protect the rim.

"I feel like Missouri hadn't seen a team that really got up and pressured like we did today," Spradling said.

Missouri shot 32.7 percent. That percentage included nine two-point field goals, or one every 4 1/2 minutes.

Meanwhile, K-State also reclaimed its rebounding identity, earning a 39-25 advantage on the glass after surrendering that territory against Kansas. Even better: K-State outscored Missouri 46-18 in the paint.

"Physically, they kicked us," Mizzou coach Frank Haith said.

During the opening minutes, it didn't take long for K-State — or Bramlage Coliseum — to show Missouri that things wouldn't be quite so smooth on the road in the Big 12. With Mizzou playing four guards — and few post protectors at the rim — McGruder attacked the basket with renewed determination.

The early drives turned into eight points for McGruder as K-State built a 24-14 lead. And even when McGruder, who finished with 20 points, exited with two fouls, the rest of the Wildcats stepped up. Spradling hit three early three-pointers on his way to 14 points, and Henriquez started in place of Gipson and responded with 10 points and eight rebounds.

"We held each other accountable," Spradling said, "which is something we weren't doing before."

Now, after their eighth straight victory over Missouri at Bramlage, the Wildcats can look toward a matchup with No. 4 Baylor at home on Tuesday.

"You gotta love the Big 12," Martin said.

Martin was referring to his team's early-conference schedule. In the span of four days, the Wildcats had experienced the ultimate low at Allen Fieldhouse and bounced back with a therapeutic victory over another old foe. But, of course, Martin said he'd already smashed his DVD of the Kansas game and flushed it down the toilet. And safe to say, he won't be dwelling on Saturday for too long.

"It's crazy," Martin said. "Conference play is crazy. You never know what's gonna happen. You gotta protect your home court. We did that today. Now we gotta go get ready to protect it again. And then you have to be tough as nails, and disciplined as nails, to have a chance to win on the road."

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