MANHATTAN — Turns out scoring doesn’t have to be so difficult for Kansas State.
Points come when the Wildcats get the ball to Rodney McGruder in the lane, where he can dribble once toward the basket and use his size to his advantage on mid-range shots. They also come when the Cats pass quickly and accurately in transition.
Now, if they can only find a way to play strong defense at the same time.
Despite their best offensive showing, the Wildcats were still using their starters at the end of a 78-69 victory over Texas Southern on Tuesday at Bramlage Coliseum. They had to make 56 percent of their shots to overcome 15 turnovers and they needed a top-of-the-line performance from McGruder to survive with Texas Southern making 13 three-pointers.
Still, K-State coach Bruce Weber was happy with the outcome.
“If you watch Texas Southern’s scores, they are a team to be reckoned with,” Weber said of the Tigers (1-10). “It’s a tough game. It’s a trap game. I think Stephen F. Austin beat Oklahoma tonight. You get these holiday games, if you’re not ready to play teams come in and make plays. These guys are for real.”
Regardless of opponent strength, the victory helped K-State break out of an offensive slump. The Wildcats managed 65 points in a narrow victory over George Washington two weeks ago and were at their worst during a 68-52 setback to No. 14 Gonzaga over the weekend.
That ugly loss left players embarrassed and Weber angry enough to deliver a fiery postgame speech.
“I was not very happy, to be honest,” Weber said. “I said, ‘You guys need to make a decision: Are you going to be a team or not?’ ”
With No. 8 Florida meeting K-State on Saturday at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., the Wildcats wanted to prove something to their coach and themselves by bouncing back with a victory over Texas Southern and fixing their offense in the process.
Behind a season-high 26 points from McGruder, who made 12 of 17 shots, they did both.
“It’s big for any player to see the ball go in,” McGruder said.
K-State (8-2) shook off 12 turnovers and lackluster defense in the first half to take a 35-31 lead at the break, and then sprinted to a 53-38 lead early in the second half.
Behind 24 points from Raymond Penn, Texas Southern hung around. It relied mostly on hot outside shooting, making 13 of 28 from three-point range, to pull within 72-66 with 1:13 remaining, but got no closer.
K-State dominated inside behind Thomas Gipson, who scored 14 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, Jordan Henriquez, who added eight points, and McGruder.
Though McGruder played all over, he did most of his damage in the paint. Unlike previous games, when K-State coaches asked him to catch and shoot the ball on the perimeter after coming off complicated screens, he continually got the ball in his favorite area.
“We are getting better,” junior guard Shane Southwell said. “Today, we did good, especially me and Thomas screening for Rodney. That’s why he was open so much. We just have to keep doing what we were doing today.”
And unlike past games, when Weber complained McGruder wasn’t taking enough shots, he fired away.
“He got it going early,” Texas Southern coach Mike Davis said. “I thought he played fantastic.”
“He looked like a player,” added Weber.
The results were noticeable. McGruder looked like the same aggressive player that averaged 15.8 points as a junior, and his teammates fed off his success.
Gipson went to work inside and played strong defense, Southwell scored eight points, snared seven rebounds and had some nice passes while getting his first start of the year and Angel Rodriguez and Will Spradling moved the ball well in transition.
K-State finished with a season-high 21 assists as a team and outscored Texas Southern 46-20 in the paint. Other than making 2 of 13 three-pointers, the Wildcats showed offensive improvement.
“We got it where we could score easy baskets,” Weber said. “We talk about making shots, well, we made 56 (percent).”
The Wildcats will need to continue to playing that way against the Gators, and do a better job defending the perimeter, if they hope to get their first statement victory of the Weber era later this week.
Still, winning a game with offense was a welcome change.
“It was positive for us,” McGruder said. “I feel good about our offense. We see that we can score within our offense. It helps out and prepares us for upcoming games.”