Kansas State guard Rodney McGruder (22) battles for a rebound with Texas forwards Jonathan Holmes (10) and Ioannis Papapetrou (33) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the Big 12 tournament on Thursday, March 14, 2013, in Kansas City, Mo. Kansas State forward Jordan Henriquez (21) gets in on the play. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Rodney McGruder scored 24 points and sparked an 11-0 run in the second half, lifting No. 11 Kansas State past Texas 66-49 on Thursday night in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament.
An all-conference senior who ranks in the top 10 in 14 of Kansas State's career categories, McGruder also had a team-leading 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.
The Wildcats, who tied No. 7 Kansas for their first regular-season conference title since 1977, will face either No. 14 Oklahoma State or Baylor in the semifinals Friday night.
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 defense. 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.
Sheldon McClellan and Lewis hit back-to-back 3-pointers for Texas 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 first-year basketball coach Bruce Weber.
The Longhorns closed the game on an 8-0 run, including another bucket by McGruder.
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Kansas State Coach Bruce Weber, student‑athletes Rodney McGruder and Angel Rodriguez. Coach, your thoughts on tonight's victory.
COACH WEBER: It's a good win. We've talked about Texas, how much improvement they've made over the last stretch, with Kabongo back, changes their team, and I think they're 6‑3, since he got back. And since we played them they were 4‑1, and basically beat the same teams, most of the same team, Oklahoma State, along that stretch.
We knew we had a game. When we saw the big lineup, we thought they would play zone.
The second night, keep legs. I don't think they wanted to chase us. And they had ‑‑ for the most part it was pretty successful. We struggled. But the best thing for us is we talked all week about getting better at defense.
We had slipped I thought last week defensively, both in the TC and Oklahoma State. It's nothing against them. They're good teams. But we weren't in a position where we needed to be. And I thought we did a much better job.
And obviously with Kabongo, he scored only the last bucket or last free throws of the game, otherwise he has zero and made other people made plays.
So proud of the guys. You keep finding somebody to step up. Omari went in a couple minutes, Nino went in a couple minutes, but D.J., Darrell Johnson, who was good in the year and he always gives us a minute or two, but he was huge for us. So that was great. With J.O.'s (Henriquez) back kind of struggling, we needed somebody with Thomas in foul trouble. And like we have all year, somebody stepped up, and Darrell was definitely the difference maker tonight.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for our student‑athletes.
Q. Rodney, you know I speak in broad‑brush terms, but Kansas State beat Texas all three times in men's basketball this year, also beat them in football. We're talking about little K‑State toppling Texas in those two major sports. What's the pride you have in wearing those colors to be able to do what you guys have been able to do as a university this year?
RODNEY MCGRUDER: It all starts with our fans, how much they support us, and they push us to go hard. And we know what we're doing is not only for ourselves but also the Manhattan community.
So it feels good to do big things for our community.
Q. Angel, can you talk about what you guys did defensively in general and in particular against Kabongo?
ANGEL RODRIGUEZ: The first game I think he had 24 points and he pretty much killed us. He did whatever he wanted to. So, you know, the whole key with them, if you start Myck Kabongo and you let other players make plays, you're going to have a higher chance of winning the game.
That's what we did today. We've got to give a lot of credit to our teammates, our big, did a tremendous job at hedging or just not letting him ‑‑ not letting him play comfortable.
Q. Angel, did you feel like it was easier to push the ball and play more of your tempo of the game the second half than it was the first half?
ANGEL RODRIGUEZ: I thought we rebounded better and that gave us a chance to actually push the ball, because the coaches were saying that they were all crashing the boards. And if we make sure we get the rebound, we're going to get a fastbreak situation, because they're all crashing the boards and nobody's going to get back. And we did that a lot of times, we got a lot of layups and a lot of easy baskets.
Q. Rod, at times this year this team has been its best when scoring has been spread across three, four guys. But there have been times where you've taken over games, too. I wondered, tonight's game, was there a feeling that maybe early on or maybe even halfway where you thought you were going to have to take the majority of the shots?
RODNEY MCGRUDER: No. The shots that I took today were open shots. And I was fortunate enough to make half of them. And Angel found me a couple of times on the break and on the wing. So I just gotta thank my teammates for finding me tonight.
Q. Rodney, kind of going off the same thing there, I believe it's the fourth time in seven meetings against Texas that you scored at least 20 points. And before the game Curt and Jamar both said they thought you would show up in this game, and of course you did. Is there anything about Texas and going against them that really lights your fire?
RODNEY MCGRUDER: I wouldn't say that. Tonight I just played with a sense of urgency. I know this could have been my last game in the Sprint Center. So I tried to go out there and give it my all, lay it all on the line.
Q. Angel, you kind of had an off game against Oklahoma State. Can you talk about your feelings when you came out there and hit your first few 3s like that?
ANGEL RODRIGUEZ: We watched film, and the 3s I was taking against Oklahoma State were kind of far. And sometimes it's not always going to be a good day. But it happened already. I'm always going to play with high confidence. The coaches and my teammates trust me a lot.
So you move on. Regardless if you played good or bad, the next game is what matters.
Q. Rod, you guys kind of broke the game open with a 12‑0 run midway through the second half. It started with that 3‑pointer you threw in right at the end of the shot clock. Can you talk about that shot and how big that run was to open up the big lead?
RODNEY MCGRUDER: Angel did a good job penetrating. I looked behind him and he found me, and I was fortunate enough to make the shot.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. Questions for Coach.
Q. Coach, can you talk about the play of your subs; you had two guys with three fouls early in the second half?
COACH WEBER: You know, I thought we'd go back to Will. He seems healthier, and it gives us a rotation with Martavious coming off the bench for either Angel or for Will. If you start Martavious now, Angel gets in foul trouble, Ta (Irving) gets tired, you're in a bind. That's part of the reason we did that. I told Ta he's been great. Had nothing to do with him or how his play. But if you play well, you're going to be in at the end of the game. That's where he was.
And I thought Omari had a couple of good moments. We tried to get Rod out as much as we can. It's tough sometimes. But when O (Lawrence) goes in there, he's played well against Texas all three times. He had a couple of nice plays for us.
And then Darrell, D.J., that's how he played early in the year. I'm not sure what lit the fire tonight, but he was sure good. And seven rebounds, four offensive, eight points. And just was a back‑breaker for them with J.O. kind of struggling getting up and down the court. And then Thomas in foul trouble. And even Nino, just a couple minutes here or there.
All year it's been a key to our team, is that we are a team and we can come at you with a lot of different people.
Q. The 2‑3 zone that Texas put on in the first half, was it frustrating? Was it annoying? Seemed like it just took a while for the offense to get in gear.
COACH WEBER: I told the guys I thought they would play zone. So it wasn't unexpected. And they did it yesterday. Had some success with it against TCU. They are long. And when you saw their starting lineup, you knew they were going to do it. And they get you pretty out, you know, on the wings. They come up high and get you on the wings.
I thought we just didn't do a good job penetrating. When we did, it was usually late in the shot clock and we were able to get some kind of action and get something happening.
I thought that and the ball screens we got a little better. And then somebody mentioned about running. One, they turned it over 15 times. That allowed us to run and beat the zone back. But they also crashed five, and they hurt us early.
We got better with our rebounding second half, as Angel said. And then we were able to get down the court and beat the zone a little bit.
And then Shane ‑‑ I thought Shane, for only two points, it was one of his better games. He just made a lot of little plays and was really solid defensively. He started sneaking around in the zone. He didn't always get the assists, but he got the assist that led to the assist, the hockey assist, that made a difference.
Q. You mentioned being happy with the defense, that some things came back. You see the second half percentages, 25 percent. Obviously that speaks for itself. But is this effort back to the top level that you guys were playing earlier?
COACH WEBER: I'm not sure it's the top. But we were definitely in position tonight. And, again, I'm not sure, and we did a lot of 5‑on‑4. We call it frenzy. We've got to scramble and help the ‑‑ guard the next guy that's open. Because that's how they get you. He gets by one guy, you gotta help. Somebody's gotta rotate.
And that's going to happen whether it's tonight, Pierre tomorrow, Marcus Smart, whoever, that's what people have done against us.
So I felt better about it that we gave up some points in the paint early, and that's what ‑‑ the last game we gave up 36 points in the paint against Texas, and did a much better job especially in the second half.
Q. Question on playing Texas three times in a single season. The first time of school history you beat them by 26 at Manhattan, 12 in Austin, 17 tonight. Is there anything maybe about the familiarity of facing a team three times that might make it easier?
COACH WEBER: You know, people say it's hard to beat teams three times. And I think you have a little bit of an advantage. You can sit back last night and watch the game. Still they probably didn't get back to the hotel 11:30, 12:00, and I hope as the game went on maybe that would be an advantage for us. Although, they rotate so many people.
But it's hard to tell. It's easier to prepare. We just played them two weeks ago. It seems like everybody on our side of the bracket ‑‑ the scout just happened. It wasn't somebody that we played in early January.
And it's a good win. We're catching them a year where they're kind of rebuilding. They got a lot of young kids. They definitely made some improvements. And just a good solid win for us. I'm happy.
Q. You don't know who you play, but whoever you play, tomorrow's going to be awfully talented and red hot. Can you talk about the challenge you have next round?
COACH WEBER: Both teams are very good. And we just played both of them in the last two weeks, so preparation will be easier, as far as that goes.
Our big thing is we've gotta guard. To give ourselves a chance, we hopefully have a little bit of home‑court advantage with some purple in the stands and again the excitement.
One of the things I challenged the seniors about tonight was the last two years they got knocked out first game. Now we're living in the second day. Now let's see if we can get to the championship. And that's the thing we've talked about all ‑‑ actually not all year, but the last three, four weeks since Coach Snyder talked to us, just be 1‑0. We're 1‑0 tonight. Move on. Be 1‑0 tomorrow night and we'll be playing Saturday.
It will be a tough challenge. Hopefully our guys will rise up to the occasion.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.
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