Published January 13, 2015
It didn't seem to matter what Rodney McGruder did — fire away over the Texas zone, pull up in the lane or take a pass from Angel Rodriguez down low.
There was no way the Longhorns were stopping No. 11 Kansas State's all-conference senior, who scored 24 points to lead the Wildcats to a 66-49 victory over the Longhorns on Thursday night in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament.
"It all starts with our fans, how much they support us," said McGruder. "They push us to so hard, we know what we're doing is not only for ourselves but also the Manhattan (Kan.) community. It just feels good to do big things for our community."
McGruder, who ranks in the top 10 in 14 of Kansas State's career categories, also had a team-high seven rebounds as the second-seeded Wildcats (26-6) whipped the Longhorns for the third time this year.
Julien Lewis scored 13 points and Jonathan Holmes had 10 for Texas (16-17), which trailed almost the entire game and is in grave danger of missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in 15 years.
"I'm disappointed," said Texas coach Rick Barnes. "I think when you have high expectations in anything you're going to be disappointed. I'm disappointed. I think we could have won this game today. I think we could have won this tournament. But we didn't because we made the same mistakes we made in two other games with them. We helped them out. And they don't need any help."
The Wildcats, who tied No. 7 Kansas for their first regular-season conference title since 1977, will face No. 14 Oklahoma State in the semifinals Friday night.
"It's a good win," said Kansas State coach Bruce Weber, whose shooters spent most of the game trying to solve the Texas zone. "I told the guys I thought they would play zone. So it wasn't unexpected. And when you saw that starting lineup, you knew they were going to do it."
The Wildcats held a 43-36 lead midway through the second half when McGruder's one-handed floater ignited the run that put the game out of reach. A moment later, the 6-4 senior stole the ball at midcourt, drew a foul and then connected on a 3-pointer over the Longhorns' zone. D.J. Johnson followed with a dunk and McGruder added a pair of 3-pointers.
McGruder's 10 field goals tied the school record for a conference tournament game.
"We're living into the second day," said Weber. "Now let's see if we can get to the championship."
Sheldon McClellan and Lewis hit back-to-back 3-pointers after Kansas State's 11-0 run to cut the lead to 58-47, but that was as close as the Longhorns would get.
McGruder stole the ball near the Texas basket in the final minute before the break and hit a 3-pointer for a 34-28 halftime lead. A few seconds earlier, D.J. Johnon had tipped in a miss after Jonathan Holmes' three-point play sliced Kansas State's lead to 29-28.
Longhorns point guard Myck Kabongo, who scored 24 points in Kansas State's 81-69 victory at Texas, had seven assists but was 0 for 5 from the floor and scored only two points. Since returning from a 23-game NCAA suspension, the 6-1 sophomore had led the Longhorns with nearly 16 points a game.
Angel Rodriguez had 13 points and five assists for Kansas State.
The Wildcats, who swept two games against Texas in the regular season, fell behind early but seized the lead when the Longhorns turned the ball over on three straight possessions and left Will Spradling all alone for a 3-pointer.
The Sprint Center Arena, brimming with purple-clad Kansas State fans, erupted in a loud cheer near the end of the game when popular football coach Bill Snyder was shown on the big electronic board sitting in the stands. The cheers became deafening when the always-reserved Snyder, prompted by the public address announcer, kissed his wife on the cheek.
The victory continues what's been a banner sports year for the Wildcats, who produced a Heisman Trophy finalist, conference championships in both football and basketball and garnered Big 12 coach of the year honors for both Snyder and Weber.
The Longhorns closed the game on an 8-0 run, including another bucket by McGruder.