No one was happier to see Rodney McGruder succeed during a 90-44 exhibition victory over Washburn than Jacob Pullen.
After watching the sophomore guard make all five of the three-pointers he attempted and score a game-high 18 points on Sunday at Bramlage Coliseum, Pullen was first in line to offer praise.
With the regular season fast approaching, the preseason All-American knows better than anyone that teams will focus their defensive efforts on stopping him. And in order for the Kansas State basketball team to live up to expectations, he will need scoring help in the backcourt.
During the Wildcats’ final exhibition game, McGruder proved he is capable of doing exactly that.
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“We’re legit,” Pullen said. “When Rodney is making shots like that you can’t double inside. You can’t double on ball screens with me or anything like that. It spreads the floor. . . .You’vejustgottostay home and pick your threat of which way you want to let us score.”
Against Washburn the Wildcats scored in every way imaginable. K-State coach Frank Martin experimented will all sorts of different lineups and used 14 different players. Thirteen of them scored.
On top of McGruder, Pullen scored 12, Curtis Kelly added 11 inside and Jordan Henriquez-Roberts contributed nine points and nine rebounds.
Afterward, Ichabods’ coach Bob Chipman was asked what impressed him most about the Wildcats. He pointed out K-State’s 53 rebounds, and a gritty defensive effort that held Washburn to 16 field goals in 66 attempts. But he also saw what Pullen saw.
“McGruder tonight, he got my attention,” Chipman said. “If he can shoot the ball like thatæ.æ.æ. wow. That could really make them special.”
A year ago, McGruder played sparingly in a reserve role and averaged 3.9 points per game. He did have his moments, including a 20-point effort early on against Boston University, but more is expected out of him this season.
He has started both exhibition games for K-State, and hopes he has found a formula for sustained success.
“I felt good before the game,” McGruder said. “Jake told me to have confidence and just let it go. When I’m open, just shoot the ball.”
He did, and he found his offensive groove. Unlike a two-point showing last week against Newman, after which Martin pulled him aside and told him to relax with the ball and raise his intensity on defense, he felt comfortable playing 22 minutes.
“Rodney is a great, great young man,” Martin said. “He works his tail off and cares as much as anybody in the locker room. You coach him, he doesn’t fight it. He accepts it. That’s a challenge to him to learn and get better. Defensively, he’s grown by leaps and bounds.”
The Wildcats open the regular season on Friday, hosting James Madison with an 8 p.m. tipoff.
Notes — Nick Russell and Freddy Asprilla started in place of Victor Ojeleye and Curtis Kelly.æ.æ.æ. Jamar Samuels, last season’s Big 12 Sith Man Award winner, once again did not participate He is suffering from a minor eye injury, but could take the court in the season opener. “He’s worried about getting poked in the eye,” Martin said. “He just wasn’t any good at practice yesterday. I told him, ‘listen just take the day off tomorrow take the day off on Monday like everyone else let’s come in here on Tuesday and let’s get to work. Let’s put all this nonsense behind you.”æ.æ.æ. K-State won the rebounding battle53-42, but did allow Washburn to grab 17 offensive boards. Martin said he was eager to rewatch the game and figure out how a smaller opponent was so successful in that area. “You can’t give up 17 offensive rebounds,” Martin said.