Kansas State’s 83-57 victory over Texas on Wednesday at Bramlage Coliseum began in the unlikeliest of ways.
Rodney McGruder, the Wildcats’ leading scorer and best player, picked up two quick fouls and spent the majority of the first half on the bench. Then, Will Spradling suffered a broken nose and left the floor entirely. Not exactly a recipe for K-State success.
McGruder has been a constant this season, the one player coach Bruce Weber knows he can always depend on. Spradling has been one of the team’s top shooters. Losing both of them seemed like the kind of misfortune that might help the struggling Longhorns leave with an upset.
But things didn’t turn out that way. Not by a long shot.
Even without McGruder and Spradling the No. 18 Wildcats (16-4, 5-2 Big 12) were too much for the Longhorns (9-11, 1-6). K-State raced to a 38-19 halftime lead, used walk-ons late in the second half and won without a hint of drama. Go figure.
“I don’t think you could ever predict with Rodney out 2 minutes into the game, Will breaks his nose in the first and we are up 19 at half,” Weber said. “… Overall a great team effort.”
Indeed, it was a blowout from the get-go, with seemingly everyone on the roster pitching in.
Sophomore forward Thomas Gipson had the biggest impact, using nifty moves to get to the basket and beat defenders on his way to 17 points and seven rebounds. He responded well after losing his starting spot to Jordan Henriquez. But that wasn’t his only inspiration.
“Today my real motivation was that today was my sister’s birthday,” Gipson said. “She passed about a year ago. I just used that as my reason to play hard, but I should play that way every game. That’s not really an excuse for how I have been playing these past recent games.
“Coach just told me, ‘If you want to play just rebound and hedge and do the defensive principles we have to do in order for us to win.’ I didn’t do that against Iowa State. I just said to myself, ‘I have to do it this game.’ ”
Junior guard Omari Lawrence was the surprise of the night, playing his finest game in a K-State uniform. He scored 10 of his 12 points before halftime and finished with six rebounds. He has been used sparingly, but that may change.
Weber said he will likely use him in relief of McGruder in upcoming games. His teammates would like to see that happen.
“I think the bench came up with a lot of energy,” sophomore guard Angel Rodriguez said. “Omari, I don’t think I have ever seen him or anyone else play that hard coming off the bench for us. His energy got us all going. That was the key.”
The Wildcats got contributions everywhere, though. Martavious Irving was the first to relieve McGruder when he got into foul trouble and he hit Henriquez with two quick assists. Rodriguez spread the ball around for eight assists while scoring 11 points, and 12 K-State players scored.
It was an all-around effort for K-State. That’s something it hasn’t had many of lately. Most of the time, it relies on McGruder to lead the way on offense, hopes two of his teammates reach double-figures and grinds out victories with defense and toughness.
There was no need for that against Texas, with K-State getting 45 points from its bench, though it was obvious who brought more energy to the floor. The Wildcats were quicker to rebounds and loose balls, and that led to a big lead they were easily able to maintain.
“I told the team, ‘The first 5 minutes of the game, the tone of this game will be set. We will see right from the beginning,’” Texas coach Rick Barnes said. “Think about it, it was. They came out and were terrific. I thought they played great tonight. I thought we helped them, not fighting. Their early determination, their intensity, we didn’t match it.”
With the victory, K-State ended a two-game skid and will play at Oklahoma on Saturday in a battle for second place in the conference standings.
The Wildcats hope McGruder plays a bigger impact this weekend. But if he doesn’t, at least they can think back to this performance.
“This is the first time Rodney has had foul trouble, but it was good for our other guys, I guess,” Weber said. “It gives you confidence down the road if you get in some foul trouble or things happen you can still respond.”