KSU men shake off rust, win 72-53
By ARNE GREEN
Special to The Telegram
MANHATTAN — All it took the Kansas State Wildcats was one torrid stretch to erase a multitude of first-half sins.
The Wildcats, struggling mightily to shake South Carolina-Upstate, scored the last 14 points of the first period and seven more to start the second Sunday afternoon to get the separation they needed for a 72-53 victory at Bramlage Coliseum.
Rodney McGruder led the charge with a season-high 22 points and seven rebounds as the Wildcats improved to 6-1. Thomas Gipson added 11 points and seven more boards in his first start of the year, while Omari Lawrence and Adrian Diaz added 10 points apiece off the bench.
Ricardo Glenn scored with five minutes left in the first half to pull Upstate (3-5) within a basket at 22-20 when the Wildcats went on their tear to quickly put the game out of reach.
Gipson started it with five straight points and Lawrence drained a pair of 3-pointers as K-State opened a 36-20 halftime advantage. McGruder and Will Spradling then took over to start the second half, combining for the Wildcats' first 11 points and leading to a 47-24 cushion on Spradling's baseline jumper with 16:42 left.
"After that timeout, coach said he wanted energy," Gipson said of the initial spurt. "He looked at me directly and I took that as motivation and just came out and brought energy to the team.
"It really turned out positive for us."
It was another step forward offensively for McGruder, the senior preseason all-Big 12 selection, who continues to adapt to new coach Bruce Weber's motion offense.
"It meant a lot. It got me back going," he said. "But what really helped me out was having a week off to get refreshed mentally and physically."
The Wildcats had not played since suffering their first loss of the season nine days earlier against Michigan in the NIT Season Tip-Off final.
"(We were) a little sluggish to start, obviously," Weber said. "I think nine days without a game (made a difference).
"We scrimmaged with refs on Wednesday just to kind of simulate some game conditions, but it's not the same. And we were buggered up a little bit — (Jordan Henriquez) with back spasms late in the week and Shane (Southwell) and Angel (Rodriguez) with the sore foot."
Neither Henriquez nor Southwell played while Rodriguez started at point guard but played just 13 minutes.
"We guarded well and I thought we did some good things on the defensive end early, but we couldn't get anything going offensively," said Weber, whose Wildcats trailed briefly in the first half. "Great run as we finished the half."
Upstate coach Eddie Payne said his team failed to match K-State's physical play during the pivotal run.
"Things were going pretty good for us and then they picked it up a little bit and got real physical with us and I thought our kids caved a little bit and got shooting quick," Payne said. "We needed to get deeper into the possessions and didn't do that, and then they got a little run going at the end of the first half."
The Wildcats now have another break before traveling to Washington, D.C., to face George Washington on Saturday in what will be a homecoming for McGruder.