Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
Kansas State finished the season with a split against Oklahoma State, and was looking for a win to prove it was the better team. Sitting at #11 in the country, the Wildcats were also looking for a statement against #14. They got both. A TV timeout over four minutes into the game came at a 0-5 K-State lead in a game that looked to be an absolute grind. However, K-State enjoyed a 12-2 run late in the first half and broke it open in the second, turning a 28-23 lead into a 37-25 advantage just over two minutes into the second half. The Wildcats eventually prevailed 68-57.
The battle between Marcus Smart and Rodney McGruder lost a bit of luster when Smart’s teammates failed to produce, putting the game on the back of Oklahoma State’s freshman. There’s no doubt this kid has a place in the NBA – he’s already flopping like Chris Paul – but McGruder outdueled him while guiding the Wildcats to a rematch with KU in the Big 12 conference championship game. Smart finished with 18 points on the night to McGruder’s
25, as McGruder also contributed seven rebounds and three assists.
Will Spradling left the game with five minutes left, escorted to the locker room by one of K-State’s trainers. He returned a short time later, and the cause or extent of the injury were not disclosed. However, anyone following the team knows he has been battling a bruised sternum for almost a month now, and two straight nights of playing have probably taken their toll. Will would return to the game after Oklahoma State threatened to come back with a late run. Spradling struggled on the night finishing zero for three with three fouls and zero points – although he did pull down four rebounds.
Also playing injured was Jordan Henriquez, who once again found himself on a stationary bike when not playing in order to keep his back loose. However, pain and stiffness could not prevent him from posting an incredible first half. Henriquez provided six rebounds, four points, and three blocks in the first 20 minutes. He finished with eight points to go along with 11 rebounds, three blocks, and an assist over 22 minutes. Thomas Gipson once again struggled in coming off the bench for Henriquez. Gipson was brilliant at times in conference play and Bruce Weber found success in bringing him off the bench in the middle of the season. However, he has struggled of late with foul trouble while taking responsibility for opponents’ big men. He was whistled four times tonight and turned the ball over twice while only securing one rebound and two points.
K-State didn’t look great in the first half, but was definitely the better team over the second 20 minutes. Angel Rodriguez finally found his shooting touch after starting slowly, and finished with 17 on the night. Martavious Irving and Shane Southwell both contributed seven points, but their importance can’t be overstated. Each hit a huge three to spur runs when the rest of team had gone cold. Despite not starting, Irving logged 24 minutes to only 19 for Spradling. McGruder received 38 minutes, Rodriguez 37 minutes, and Southwell 35 in the game.
Both teams struggled to shoot well the entire game. Kansas State finished the night 22-56, hitting only 39.3 percent of its shots. Oklahoma State was even worse, hitting 18-57 for 30.5 percent. That mark was the worst of the season for the Cowboys. K-State reclaimed the free throw shooting that recently alluded the team, knocking down over 80 percent of its attempts from the charity stripe. As has been the case all year, the Wildcats both recorded more assists and committed fewer turnovers than their opponent, further contributing to their league-leading assist:turnover ratio and leading assist:turnover differential advantage.
There was a strong sense of excitement coursing throughout the Sprint Center towards the end of the game as Wildcat fans cheered on a team headed to the Big 12 Championship. The Wildcats will get another chance to defeat the Jayhawks tomorrow, having dropped both games during the regular season. With a win, the Wildcats will finish 28-6 and an argument to receive a #2 seed in the NCAA tournament.