MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Kansas State coach Bruce Weber had a simple query for his players before Tuesday night's game against Texas Southern. The Wildcats were coming off a double-digit road loss to No. 14 Gonzaga, and Weber was not happy.
"You guys have got to make a decision," he said. "Are you going to be a team or not?"
A 78-69 victory for the Wildcats would indicate an affirmative response — particularly from senior Rodney McGruder, who scored a season-high 26 points.
"Coach gave a great speech before the game," McGruder said. "That loss at Gonzaga really hurt me, I would say. It woke me up. It was a wake-up call."
McGruder scored the team's first two baskets, floaters in the lane. Texas Southern coach Mike Davis said those early scores opened the floodgates.
"He just got it going early," Davis said. "He came off the down screen and curled it right in the paint and shot two uncontested shots."
"Once you get a guy into a rhythm, it's pretty hard to stop him," Davis added. "I thought he played fantastic tonight."
Weber, in his first year with the Wildcats, said part of what helped McGruder on Tuesday was his willingness to take what the Tigers gave him — especially the opportunity to take advantage of screens by his teammates.
"Tonight, Rod could make those tight little curls and get in the lane, and he jumped up and shot," Weber said. "I think the thing he did tonight was shoot open shots."
Kansas State's Thomas Gipson added 14 points and 12 rebounds. All but one of his baskets came in the second half, helping fend off a late attempt at a rally by the Tigers.
The Wildcats grabbed 38 boards to Texas Southern's 26. They scored 46 points in the paint, while the Tigers managed just 20.
What kept Texas Southern in the game so long was its efficiency from 3-point range, particularly by Ray Penn, who hit three 3s in the last four and a half minutes of the game. In the second half, the Tigers drained seven from beyond the arc for a total of 13 in the game.
"There's not much you can do," Weber said. "We thought if we were solid sooner or later we'd wear them down and they'd start missing them, but obviously they didn't tonight."
For that reason, the Wildcats (8-2) could never shake the Tigers (1-10), who trailed by just six points with 1:13 remaining. But four free throws in the final 35 seconds protected Kansas State's lead.
Penn had 24 points for Texas Southern, and Omar Strong and Madarious Gibbs added 13 points each.
A 7-0 run by the Wildcats — five of the points were by McGruder — gave them a 46-36 lead with 15:03 remaining. It was the first double-digit advantage of the game.
The lead grew to 53-38 with 12 minutes to play. But Texas Southern went on a 10-2 spurt that included 3-pointers by Penn and Gibbs.
With 7:40 left, Texas Southern trailed 55-48 and hung in until the final minutes.
Kansas State shot 56.4 percent (31 of 55) from the floor.
Texas Southern's success from behind the arc kept the game close early. The Tigers converted five of their first nine 3-point attempts and scored 18 of its 31 first-half points on 3s.
Kansas State went 1 for 7 from 3-point range in the opening half. The Wildcats led just 35-31 at the break and needed a 15-5 run toward the end of the half to get there.