MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — In his most impressive performance of the young season, Kansas State's Rodney McGruder showed a glimmer of the ability that made him an early candidate for the Naismith and Wooden awards.
He scored 22 points Sunday as the Wildcats defeated South Carolina-Upstate 72-53.
The total was the largest for McGruder this season, his first under new Kansas State coach Bruce Weber. After leading the Wildcats in scoring last year, McGruder had not cracked double digits in three of the previous six games.
Against the Spartans, he looked more like the scoring machine the Wildcats need for him to be, shooting at a 50 percent clip.
"They were rhythm shots," McGruder said. "It wasn't like I was forcing those shots. It was shots throughout the offense, and I was open."
Weber saw the performance as a step in the right direction for McGruder, but he would prefer the senior guard shoot even more.
"Obviously, (he's) getting numbers a little better, starting to feel a little more comfortable," Weber said. "He's still — gosh, as he's got open shots he's got to take them and let the game come to him."
Thomas Gipson added 11 points for the Wildcats (6-1), who led 36-20 at halftime and scored the first seven points of the second half. McGruder hit four free throws after drives to the basket and Will Spradling made a 3-pointer.
Jodd Maxey scored 13 points for the Spartans (3-5), and Torrey Craig added 12 points. The Spartans struggled to contain Kansas State's forwards throughout the game. Later in the second half, Adrian Diaz added three baskets in quick succession to increase the Wildcats' advantage to 56-31 with 13:21 to play.
After a basket by McGruder gave Kansas State a 58-31 lead, big men D.J. Johnson, Nino Williams, Gipson and Diaz scored the next 14 points for the Wildcats. The Wildcats outrebounded the Spartans 45 to 37.
"They got us rushed and in a hurry, and we started trying to make plays too quickly," South Carolina-Upstate coach Eddie Payne said. "They get the ball back quicker, they get on offense quicker, they rebound quicker. They rebounded 12 of 20 misses in the first half. That's how they score. That's how they're productive.
"Keeping his guys off the offensive glass is a very difficult task," he added, "and we just got into a rush."
Both teams looked sluggish early, and the game stayed tight through the first 15 minutes, but a late scoring burst by the Wildcats gave them the 16-point halftime lead.
South Carolina-Upstate scored eight straight points — including four from Maxey — and took a 12-8 lead with 11:29 left in the first half. McGruder later went on a seven-point tear, ending with a 3-pointer that gave Kansas State a 17-16 lead.
The Wildcats did not kick into high gear, however, until Gipson started taking advantage of his size in the paint. With 4:29 left in the half, Gipson made a free throw after getting fouled. He scored the next four points for Kansas State, including a dunk that ignited a previously dormant crowd.
Between Gipson's contributions and consecutive 3-pointers by Omari Lawrence, the Wildcats rode a 13-0 run into the locker room.
Lawrence and Diaz finished with 10 points for Kansas State and Williams led all rebounders with nine. The Spartans made just one of their 11 attempts from 3-point range.