MANHATTAN — If Rodney McGruder rediscovered his aggressive nature on Sunday, Kansas State’s 72-53 victory over South Carolina-Upstate at Bramlage Coliseum will go down as a meaningful game.
The senior guard has looked timid at times under new basketball coach Bruce Weber. A year after leading K-State in scoring and occasionally breaking the 30-point mark in games, he got off to a slow start in the Wildcats’ first six games, averaging 11 points and rarely attacking the basket.
But that changed Sunday. McGruder, sporting a new haircut, led all scorers with a season-high 22 points. He made 8 of 16 shots, grabbed seven rebounds and dished out three assists. Most importantly, he looked confident.
“It meant a lot that I got back going,” McGruder said. “What really helped me out was having a week off to get refreshed mentally and physically … We were back to doing the things we normally do.”
The Wildcats benefited from McGruder’s best all-around game of the year with three other players reaching double figures. They fed off his success.
“They were rhythm shots,” McGruder said. “It wasn’t like I was forcing those shots. They were shots within the offense and I was open. I talked to coach about that and the offense. That helped me out a little bit.”
Thomas Gipson, a sophomore forward who got his first start of the season, scored 11 points and grabbed seven rebounds, and Omari Lawrence and Adrian Diaz both scored 10 points.
Usual starting forward Jordan Henriquez (back spasms) and reserve guard Shane Southwell (sore foot) both missed Sunday’s game with injuries, and Angel Rodriguez was held out of the second half because of with a foot injury.
USC-Upstate (3-5) challenged K-State (6-1) early, and led 14-12 midway through the first half. But the Wildcats took over from there and took a 36-20 lead at halftime. They responded well coming off a 14-point loss to No. 3 Michigan.
“We were mentally off against Michigan,” Gipson said. “I don’t think we were well prepared to play them. We just took time this whole week to get back to what we do best, and that’s just play hard with energy.”
It took a few minutes for K-State to find its groove with more than a week off between games, but it will face the same challenge in its next game at George Washington on Saturday.
Weber called the George Washington matchup “a big, big game.” He wants K-State to pick up its first true road win of the season.
If McGruder stays aggressive, the Wildcats will take their chances.
“Rodney, obviously, is getting numbers a little bit better,” Weber said. “He is starting to feel a little more comfortable. If he’s got open shots, he’s got to take them.”