Sooners can't slow down Kansas State
BY GUERIN EMIG World Sports Writer
Sunday, January 20, 2013
1/20/13 at 7:21 AM
MANHATTAN, Kan. - If Kansas State wants Rodney McGruder to win Big 12 Player of the Year in six weeks, they'll want to send voters a copy of Saturday's 69-60 victory over Oklahoma.
It wasn't that McGruder led all scorers with 20 points, the biggest statistic in the Wildcats' eighth consecutive victory. The 6-foot-4 guard has had bigger halves. Recall the 26 second-half points he dropped on Oklahoma State two weeks ago.
It was his general command of the game that undid the Sooners (12-4, 3-1 Big 12), who dropped into a third-place Big 12 Conference tie as their five-game winning streak ended.
Oh, the offensive explosion was there. It happened with 6:50 remaining in the first half and OU ahead 21-17. To that point, Steven Pledger, Je'lon Hornbeak and Buddy Hield had all kept McGruder from scoring.
Then McGruder leaned into Pledger, drew a foul and made two free throws. The game was about to change.
Amath M'Baye converted a layup to keep OU in front 23-21, but then McGruder took advantage of a Pledger-to-Hield defensive switch and hit his first 3-pointer.
Sam Grooms answered with a pull-up and the Sooners retook a 25-24 lead. But next trip down, McGruder ran Pledger into a screen and buried a 3 from the right wing. And on the one after that, a tiring Pledger lost McGruder at the top of the key. Bullseye.
McGruder's 11-point, 3 1/2-minute surge sparked a 13-4 run. K-State led 30-25. The Sooners would trail from there.
"He works so hard. It's hard to stay in touch with him the entire time," OU coach Lon Kruger said. "I thought our guys worked at it, but he got a little separation there ... and we paid for it."
McGruder never forced anything. He would drive, the Sooners would sink down to help on him, and he would kick it to an open teammate. Like when he hit Shane Southwell after M'Baye's sink to set up Southwell's 3 with a minute left in the first half.
That gave K-State a 35-27 lead at the break.
McGruder turned a little cold in the second half, going 1-of-5 from 3-point range, but he didn't demand he get back on track. Instead, he deferred to Will Spradling and Angel Rodriguez for K-State's biggest 3s of the half.
The Sooners never got closer than six points down.
They might have liked to rally behind Pledger, a 30-point scorer at K-State a year ago. But McGruder spent every minute he played defense hounding OU's sharpshooter.
Pledger opened the game with a basket, but didn't score again until 2:40 into the second half. He finished with 10 points.
"Most of the plays weren't really run for me," he claimed.
Kruger credited McGruder's defense, saying: "You can tell how well-rounded he is as a player and how hard he works."
The Sooners didn't have enough offense to overcome quiet days for Pledger and Romero Osby, this year's go-to scorer. Osby scored 10 of his 12 points in the second half, but labored for them all.
"K-State did a good job in the first half of helping on our pick-and-pops, where I didn't have a chance to attack their big guys," Osby said. "Give all the credit to them. They made it tough on me."
M'Baye contributed 12 points. But key reserve Cameron Clark didn't make a field goal, while freshmen Hield, Je'lon Horbeak and Isaiah Cousins all had single-digit scoring outputs. The Sooners turned it over 16 times versus K-State's eight. They went 3-of-11 from 3 while K-State went 10-of-24. They went 7-of-15 from the line while K-State went 15-of-22.
In a battle of Big 12 unbeatens, the Wildcats (15-2, 4-0 Big 12) had the best player and the better team.
"I think our guys came in expecting good things," Kruger said, "yet came out realizing we've got to do some things better to play at that level."
"We were just ready to play," McGruder said.
Nobody was more ready than he was.
"We jumped on Rod's back," K-State coach Bruce Weber said.
8:30 p.m. Monday
Original Print Headline: Sooners can't slow Wildcats, McGruder
Guerin Emig 918-581-8355