MANHATTAN — When Kansas State shoots well, it doesn't much matter who is on the court. The Wildcats look like a high-quality basketball team.
That's what they proved Thursday night during an easy 80-64 victory over UMKC at Bramlage Coliseum.
With seniors Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly nowhere to be found while serving suspensions for receiving impermissible benefits in the form of clothing from a local department store, shorthanded K-State made up for their absences by passing the ball and making outside shots.
Coming off painful back-to-back losses to Florida and UNLV and 48 hours of negative publicity, it was exactly what coach Frank Martin was hoping to see.
"That's what I'm about and that's what my team is about," Martin said. "Even though we had issues off the court and we had issues winning games, our team didn't fall apart. On the contrary, we became a closer-knit team."
That much was evident in the way K-State players behaved Thursday.
The Wildcats' bench was filled with smiles and enthusiasm while sophomore forward Rodney McGruder was stepping outside to make a career-high seven three-pointers on his way to 24 points, freshman point guard Will Spradling was adding 15 points and three assists and Wally Judge was registering a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds.
Judge showed positive emotion for the first time in weeks, and junior forward Jamar Samuels continually giggled and applauded Martin as he argued fouls with the officials. It was a complete reversal from the team's loss to UNLV on Tuesday, when the postgame locker room was filled with despair and Martin's screams.
Martin was in such a good mood Thursday that he said goodbye to K-State color commentator Stan Weber with a kiss on the cheek at the conclusion of their postgame television interview.
"I've got the Christmas spirit," Martin said. "Our guys fought their tails off, we played halfway decent, and we won."
That all went back to the team-oriented style K-State sported from start to finish.
Unlike when its two most highly regarded players have been in the lineup, the Wildcats (10-3) didn't struggle to make effective passes or drain open shots. Coming into Thursday's action, K-State was averaging 13.8 assists and 6.41 three-pointers per game. Against UMKC (7-5), they dished out 20 assists and made 11 threes.
Both were welcome stat lines, and reinforced Martin's belief that the Wildcats started showing fight and leadership for the first time all season against UNLV.
"We came in with a lot more intensity," Spradling said. "And when we come in with an intensity we're going to start playing defense, we're going to get out and we're going to run. That makes the game more fun for us. That's the way we want to play."
K-State is next in action on Dec. 31 at home against North Florida.