FORT WORTH — Kansas State was supposed to beat TCU by a comfortable margin on Wednesday, so its 67-54 victory at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum won’t earn many extra votes in the national polls.
That’s about the only negative that came out of this game for the Wildcats.
No. 16 K-State did everything that is expected from a heavy favorite facing a struggling opponent. And there is something to be said for that.
“We came in thinking they were going to give us their all,” said K-State senior Rodney McGruder, who scored a game-high 21 points. “We are a top-25 team. When any top-25 team goes on the road and plays in an opponent’s house, they are going to give it their all. … We were ready for the fight.”
The Wildcats (14-2, 3-0) emerged with their undefeated Big 12 record intact and two highly-anticipated games against Oklahoma and No. 4 Kansas looming at Bramlage Coliseum. Now that they used their size to take a 38-25 halftime lead and coasted to a stress-free victory, they can look forward to bigger games.
A win over Oklahoma would likely push them into the top 15. A home game with the Jayhawks might decide who takes an early lead in the conference race.
Regardless of what happens in the next week, those are enjoyable thoughts for a team that had to sweat out five of its last seven games. Though K-State is on a seven-game winning streak, two have come by double digits.
“It’s a good win,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “Now you get to go home and play Oklahoma, who has a higher RPI than us. You’ve got Lon Kruger coming back. It’s a big game for us, and we’ve got to worry about that. One game at a time. I know there is another game next Tuesday, but Oklahoma is the one we have to worry about now.”
The Wildcats only had to worry about the Horned Frogs (9-8, 0-4) for a few minutes, when TCU jumped out to an 8-2 lead.
They were able to fight through that, and quickly pull away, for two main reasons.
First, they were obviously the better team.
“It’s all about Kansas State,” TCU coach Trent Johnson said. “We are not ready to compete with a team of that caliber. … That team reminds me of all the good teams that I have had. That is how the game is supposed to be played.”
Second, Weber switched to a big lineup midway through the first half.
After TCU got off to a hot start and went into a timeout more than 7 minutes in with a 10-5 lead, Weber abandoned the four-guard lineup that has worked so well lately and went with size. Out came Thomas Gipson, Shane Southwell and Nino Williams. In came 6-foot-11 forwards Jordan Henriquez and Adrian Diaz.
Together, they made it impossible for TCU big men to focus on one area. They grabbed rebounds at a fast rate – K-State grabbed 17 of the next 22 rebounds — and got easy points. Henriquez scored eight points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Diaz had eight points and two boards.
“It’s the best when you come out and bring energy off the bench,” Henriquez said. “Everybody fed into it. I tell my guys all the time, when you are on the road we are all we got.”
With McGruder making 9 of 15 shots and three from the outside, the Wildcats were on their way to a strong offensive showing.
Not an easy feat against the Horned Frogs’ defense. Though they are struggling overall in their first year as a Big 12 member, they have been hard to score on. Their defense ranks first in the Big 12 and eighth nationally. No team has scored more than 73 points against them, and if not for Weber emptying the bench late, K-State would have easily topped that number.
Martavious Irving had eight points and five assists while playing impressive defense, and Southwell finished with seven points.
Solid defense allowed K-State to maintain its lead. TCU made 18 of 48 shots, and scored six points in transition.
“We maybe broke their spirit a little bit,” Weber said. “That happens in games. If we are going to be successful we have got to be a good defensive team. That has got to be our thing that we hang our hat on.”
The Wildcats were strong in all areas Wednesday, though. They earned style points. Just like they were supposed to.