Rodney McGruder has been discussed in many circles as a first round pick, averaging 15 points per game while leading the Kansas State Wildcats to a first place tie with KU in the Big 12. However, he lacked that iconic game-winning moment that gets fans excited about a player capable of knocking down a big shot to lead the team to victory (think Mario Chalmers against Memphis in 2008). Part of that is a matter of opportunity – K-State hasn’t engaged in many games decided by a single possession. Before Saturday, there were only three, and they were wins that already had the Wildcats ahead going into the final seconds. And then Saturday happened. You can read about the first 1199 seconds of the game here. Here’s what you need to know about the 1200th.
First, it matters who was on the floor: Baylor had taken out guards 6’4″ Deuce Bello, 6’2″ Gary Franklin, and 6’1″ A.J. Walton. Subbing in was guard and 6’2″ Brady Heslip and forwards 6’9″ Cory Jefferson, and 6’5″ Jacob Neubert. The best defenders – Pierre Jackson and center Isiah Austin – remained on the floor. Baylor is obviously looking to dominate the inside with size and athleticism, forcing K-State’s shot to either come from far away or be extremely contested.
Matching up, Bruce Weber elected to go with Angel Rodriguez, Thomas Gipson, Shane Southwell, Martavious Irving, and, of course, Rodney McGruder. Notably missing: Jordan Henriquez and Will Spradling. That’s tough. Henriquez had fouled out just 30 seconds earlier, and is the player that combines height and skill best suited for an alley-oop pass from the sideline. Gipson just doesn’t quite offer the same threat. Your best pure shooter may be Will Spradling – that’s certainly who you want taking foul shots, but he’s on the bench with a chest injury.
Setting up the play, Angel Rodriguez is your point man throwing the inbound pass – he has the best vision on the court and will find the player with the best match up to take the final shot.While Gipson is on the court, he’s the least likely candidate to play hero. He struggled all night, going two of seven for four points as Baylor found a way to neutralize him. Martavious Irving was on fire in the first half, as the senior filled in for Spradling by connecting on three of four threes in his first 15 minutes of play. However, Irving is shooting just 39 percent on the season and had a poor second half. He had to be on the court to stretch Baylor’s defense, but I’m sure Weber was tempted to throw in forward Adrian Diaz to see if the sophomore couldn’t record a nifty tip-in. However, aside from Gipson who had alternatively come in and out for Henriquez, this was the team on the court since 11:30 to play in the game. And as it stands, there are two players you want with the ball in their hands – McGruder and Southwell.
It’s important not to overlook Southwell’s ability here. While not a consistent scorer- Shane is averaging eight points per game – he’s hitting 45 percent from the field and 44 from behind the arc. And he’s athletic. Southwell is a threat to score anywhere on the court. And McGruder, well, you already know his talents. There is no more consistent threat than McGruder. If there’s one guy you want with the ball and you need a basket, not an assist, its him. That’s why this play is so incredible.