Bruce Weber assumed that Monday’s trip to Lawrence would be for rights to first place in the Big 12 if he could beat Iowa State on Saturday. He didn’t have to wait that long. KU lost its third straight, continuing its plummet from atop the national rankings, and K-State responded with a victory over the Cyclones to take sole possession of the Big 12 with an 8-2 league record.
One of the game’s biggest storylines was the battle between Thomas Gipson and Iowa State’s freshman, Georges Niang. Tonight was the fourth straight game coming off the bench for Gipson while Jordan Henriquez got the start, and it resulted in the team’s fourth straight win. However, Gipson logged the majority of minutes down low (21) while knocking down six of eight shots and four of five free throws to score 16 points while also collecting seven rebounds (Henriquez would finish with only eight minutes). However, K-State held Niang to only four of ten shooting for nine points while also getting him to commit four fouls and spend more time on the bench than the Cyclones could spare.
Rodney McGruder led all scorers with 22 points, propelled by three of four three point shots. He also finished the game with five assists and four steals for one of his more complete outings of the year. Angel Rodriguez wasn’t far behind with 20 points fueled by multiple acrobatic layups and hitting all seven of his free throws down the stretch. Overall, the team shot 51 percent from the field, including 50 percent from behind the arc, to score 79 points on the night - its second highest total in conference play this year.
The game was a great back-and-forth during the first half, with K-State jumping out to an 11-2 lead. Iowa State than went on a tear and to go up 26-19 with seven minutes left in the half on a Korie Lucious three pointer. The teams went to the locker room with K-State ahead 33-32 on the scoreboard. K-State led almost the entire second half, but didn’t truly pull away until an Angel Rodriguez three put the Wildcats up by 11 with five and a half minutes to go. Iowa State started fouling at the 2:30 mark, sending Rodriguez to the line three times where he hit all six shots. Rodney McGruder was also sent to the line, hitting both of his opportunities for the team’s final points of the night.
Stat you overlooked: Iowa State only took seven free throws. They hit six. Hard to win with a line like that. K-State hit 18 of 22 for an 82 percent success rate. This team has struggled to shoot free throws consistently all year, but that’s a refreshing statistic.
K-State travels to Lawrence Monday night with an opportunity to extend their lead for first place in the conference and the inside track to the #1 seed in the league’s tournament. Oklahoma State, at 7-3 alongside KU, has an easy match up against Texas Tech on Wednesday. Should KU and Oklahoma State prevail, it would leave them tied with K-State for first place. If K-State wins, KU will be riding a four game losing streak – the first for the University since before our fact checkers can remember. In 1988, the Jayhawks definitely lost four straight, but Danny Manning and the Miracles would eventually storm back to win the National Championship. Not this year. Currently sitting at #13, there is a good chance K-State will enter the top ten when the rankings come out on Monday.