Forget any talk of Kansas State as a team teetering on the NCAA Tournament bubble. After yet another convincing win over a Top 20 team, the Wildcats' bubble has burst — and coach Frank Martin couldn't be happier.
Rodney McGruder scored 24 points as Kansas State upset No. 3 Missouri 78-68 Tuesday night, the Wildcats' second win this season over the Tigers and their first at Mizzou Arena since 2007. It's also the second straight win over a Big 12 bruiser and national power, following a one-point weekend win over No. 13 Baylor in Waco, Texas.
"A week ago, I was trying to find a building that's more than six stories height-wise so I could jump," Martin joked after the game, though he wasn't smiling. "And these guys, they gave me energy to come in and coach them in practice because they were so positive even though we had just lost two tough games at Texas and (against) Kansas. They've been awesome and I couldn't be happier that they've been rewarded these last two games."
Kansas State (19-8, 8-7 Big 12) led 40-30 at halftime and by 16 points with 12:32 left in the second half after a twisting McGruder layup before a late run by Missouri (25-3, 12-3) got the Tigers within 63-60 with six minutes remaining.
Missouri trailed by 4 after two free throws by Michael Dixon with 2:21 left, but Jordan Henriquez answered with an alley-oop dunk following a Tiger timeout. The Wildcats extended the lead on two free throws by Henriquez after a Steve Moore foul on a missed Michael Dixon 3-pointer and built a cushion from the foul line in the final minute.
Thomas Gipson added 13 points for Kansas State, which connected on 53.8 percent of its field goals for the game. The Wildcats were even better in the second half, converting 14 of 24 for 58.3 percent.
Dixon scored 21 and Marcus Denmon added 19 for Missouri. The Tigers' made just 38.3 percent of their field goal attempts after entering the game hitting more than 50 percent, tops in the Big 12 and third-best nationally. Missouri was 8-of-26 from 3-point range, while Kansas State made six treys but took 17 fewer attempts than their opponents.
The K-State loss was Missouri's first home defeat of the season and just the fourth career loss at Mizzou Arena for the Tigers' 5-man senior class. It also kept Missouri from standing alone with the best start in school history. The previous two Missouri teams to start 25-2, in 1990 and 1994 under coach Norm Stewart, also lost.
"We had a lot of confidence," McGruder said. "And we felt like, 'Why not come in here and get a victory?'"
Kansas State had already throttled Missouri 75-59 in Manhattan in early January, one of the few blemishes on an otherwise charmed season for Missouri and first-year coach Frank Haith. And while Tuesday night's game remained in doubt until late, the Wildcats and Martin again relied on physical defense and a deeper roster to prevail.
K-State goes 10 deep, with each player averaging at least 10 minutes a game. McGruder entered as the leading scorer at 14.5 points a game, but got strong support from the beefy Gipson, a 6-foot-7, 275-pound freshman who now comes off the bench after eight straight starts. Gipson hit six of seven shots in 19 minutes.
Missouri, by contrast, uses a four-guard starting lineup and a 7-man rotation. The Tigers and coach Frank Haith have succeeded with that mix, but when reserve forward Steve Moore picked up his second foul late in the first half, Haith had to turn to Andrew Jones, a little-used former football tight end who joined the basketball team early in the season, primarily as a practice player.
Missouri led by six points early in the first half but soon struggled to both make shots and defend Kansas State. The 10-point halftime deficit was their second-largest of the season. Their biggest? Falling behind 44-25 in the first meeting in Manhattan. Missouri made 10 of 29 shots in the first half on Tuesday.
In one uncharacteristically out-of-sync sequence, Henriquez swatted Phil Pressey's driving layup attempt out of bounds. Ricardo Ratliffe then missed an open 10-foot jumper off the in-bounds play, and after a K-State miss, Denmon bobbled the ball out of bounds on a fast-break. Minutes later, the ball again glanced off his hands on a similar pass by Phil Pressey for another Tiger turnover. In between, English missed two consecutive free throws.
English was also hit with a technical foul late in the first half for slamming the ball to the court in frustration, which sent him to the bench with his third personal foul. He would later foul out and was held to 9 points. He averages 14.2 points, second on the team in scoring.
"We didn't punch back early," English said of the Tiger's first-half struggles. "When you do that and play good teams, it's an uphill battle all the way."
"We didn't defend the way we usually defend, the way we need to defend," he added. "That will be fixed. That won't happen again."
Jamar Samuels added 9 points and 11 rebounds for Kansas State. With his four blocks, all in the first half, Henriquez set a school record for career rejections with 125.
Ratliffe scored 9 points and grabbed 14 rebounds for Missouri but made just 3 of 7 field goals after entering the game making 72.6 percent of his shots, which leads the nation.
The Tigers travel to No. 4 Kansas on Saturday in what could be the final regular season match-up in the historic rivalry. With the K-State loss, Missouri trails the Jayhawks by a half-game in the conference. A win over Kansas, which plays at Texas A&M on Wednesday, could elevate Missouri back in contention for the Big 12 regular season title and a potential No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
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