KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Unable to find any rhythm, Oklahoma State was left with only the blues.
Misfiring almost all night, the No. 14 Cowboys wound up on the short end of a 68-57 score against No. 11 Kansas State Friday night in the Big 12 semifinals. Now they'll await Sunday's NCAA bracket announcement and hope to get their touch back next week.
"From the time the ball was thrown up, they brought their hard hats," Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said of Kansas State. "We didn't come out of the gates the way we were wanting. I thought for the first 5 minutes we didn't play the way we wanted but the next 35 minutes — we competed. We didn't play good but we played hard. But we never got in rhythm. Never got in rhythm at all offensively."
Rodney McGruder, who had 24 points the night before against Texas, scored Kansas State's first nine points of the second half and had 25 for the Wildcats (27-6), who maintained a comfortable lead throughout the final 20 minutes. The Cowboys (24-8) shot just 30.5 percent.
Angel Rodriguez, Kansas State's 5-11 point guard, acquitted himself well against Marcus Smart, his bigger and more celebrated Oklahoma State counterpart. Rodriguez had 17 points, four assists and three steals. He had two 3-point buckets while the Cowboys (24-8) were threatening a second-half comeback.
The 6-4 Smart, the Big 12 player of the year, had 18 points, three assists and three steals.
"We just weren't in rhythm to start the game and it carried over as the game went on," said Smart. "And we just couldn't find the rhythm. It hurt us. We were searching for it but it just wasn't there for us."
A career leader in 10 of 14 categories for the second-seeded Wildcats McGruder helped Kansas State avenge a loss to Oklahoma State in the regular season finale that forced them to share the league title with the hated Jayhawks.
"I just took the open shots, you know, and took the lanes they gave me, and I was fortunate enough to make those shots," he said of his second-half spree.
"I've got to give a lot of credit to the coaches," said Rodriguez. "At first I wasn't playing that good. I was doing a solid job, but the coaches have tremendous trust in me. They believe in me. And my teammates as well. It was just a matter of me having a good game to bring my confidence back."
Rodriquez got a hearty thumbs-up from Oklahoma State's Markel Brown.
"Angel is one of the better point guards in this league," Brown said. "He's a defensive pest. He plays really good defense aned he controls his team. he's a great point guard. He does a lot for his team. McGruder gets all the credit but no one really focuses on what Angel does for his team. He can shoot the 3 realliy well and he also creates for others."
Kansas State, which hadn't won a regular-season conference title since 1977, held a 28-23 halftime lead and then McGruder launched the second half with a dunk, a coast-to-coast layup, a jumper and a three-point play that put the Wildcats on top 37-25.
Smart's two free throws began a brief flurry for the Cowboys, who closed to 40-33 on a bucket by Michael Cobbins. But Rodriguez hit a 3-pointer from the wing and, after Smart threw up an air ball, Shane Southwell made a free throw and Thomas Gipson had a dunk for the Wildcats.
"It's a bad feeling as a coach when you've got no offensive rhythm," said Ford. "You're trying everything. We were just fighting adversity but we couldn't get anything to work. It was amazing we hung in the game. It's just one of those nights. It happens. I told our team Kansas State played better than we did. That happens."
The lead reached 49-35 when Rodriguez rebounded an Oklahoma State miss and McGruder drilled a 3-pointer.
Le'Bryan Nash had 11 points for Oklahoma State.
Jordan Henriquez had eight points and 11 rebounds for Kansas State.
The game was played before 19, 116, a tournament record, and the Sprint Center is sure to be rocking again Saturday when the two archrivals from the Sunflower State collide for the title. The No. 7 Jayhawks swept Kansas State during the regular season and in fact have tormented their state rivals, holding a bulging 184-91 record against them. Bill Self is 7-0 against Kansas State in conference tournament games and 20-3 since becoming Kansas coach. Kansas reached the finals by beating Iowa State 88-73 in the earlier semifinal.
The Wildcats were miserable in the early going, missing 17 of their first 20 shots. But Oklahoma State was not much better. The Cowboys were only four for their first 11 and had four quick fouls and four quick turnovers.
But the Cowboys got a 3-pointer from Phil Forte and two more long ones from Smart, who had 12 points in the first half, and seized a 17-12 lead on Philip Jurick's tip-in.
But then Southwell, who missed his first four from the field, connected from behind the arc and launched a 12-2 run. McGruder's bucket was followed by Martavious Irving's 3-pointer, then Rodriguez picked up an errant Oklahoma State pass and drove on for a layup and a 24-19 lead.