MANHATTAN, Kan. — Oklahoma State's search for a reliable road map to success outside of Stillwater: To be continued.
At least in the neighborhood of claiming an elusive Big 12 road win Saturday at Kansas State, the Cowboys instead veered off course, detoured by foul trouble and the Wildcats' Rodney McGruder, who scored 26 of his game-high 28 points in the second half of a 73-67 K-State win at Bramlage Coliseum.
In the league opener for both schools, the No. 22-ranked Cowboys fell to 10-3 overall and 1-17 in conference road games spanning a stretch of three seasons. The No. 25 Wildcats improved to 12-2.
OSU led 32-30 at the half, with McGruder — K-State's leading scorer — held to two points on 1-of-6 shooting. A breakout, however, was coming. And the Cowboys had fair warning.
“We talked about (McGruder) probably trying to be more aggressive,” said OSU coach Travis Ford. “Obviously, he was.
“The first half, their big guys killed us. But right before we went out, we talked about, ‘You've got to expect a guy like him, who's one of the best players in our league … he's not satisfied with two points.'”
After intermission, McGruder took over, making 10 of 13 shots from the floor, including five 3-pointers that all seemed like haymakers to OSU's cause. McGruder scored his team's first nine points of the second half and just kept going.
“I just wanted to be a leader,” said McGruder, a senior. “I wanted to step up and be aggressive for my team. And all the other guys stepped up as well. It was a great team effort.”
It was quite the opposite for the Cowboys, who needed something to go with Marcus Smart and Markel Brown. That duo combined for 44 points on 14-of-25 shooting from the floor and 13-of-16 makes at the foul line.
The rest of the Cowboys: 23 points and just 6-of-23 field goals made.
Meanwhile, Wildcats reserve Nino Williams scored 17 points and grabbed five boards off the bench.
“Marcus Smart and Markel Brown usually play well for us,” Ford said. “That's not a news flash for anybody. We're going to have to have some other guys step up.
“There's enough shots missed by us, they should be able to get it without me running a play for them. You kidding me, we come up with five offensive rebounds and we missed 29 shots? We can come up with five? Give me a break.”
Foul trouble played into OSU's lack of balance.
Kamari Murphy picked up his first foul on the opening tip and had his second two minutes later, limiting him to three first-half minutes. Philip Jurick played but six first-half minutes, yet it was enough time for him to amass three fouls, and Smart picked up his third less than two minutes into the second half.
“Foul trouble hurt us a lot,” Brown said. “It took Marcus out of the game for us. It took Phil out of the game. They started beating us up on the glass, getting second-chance points. And it helped them at the end.”
The stat sheet tilted heavily K-State's way.
* Rebounding: A problem in OSU's losses, the Cowboys were beaten 39-29 on the boards, including 12-5 in offensive rebounds, contributing to an 18-4 edge in second-chance points for the Wildcats.
* Assists: 19-6, for the Wildcats.
* Bench scoring: 27-11, for the Wildcats.
* Second-half field goal percentage: 47.1 to 39.1, again for K-State.
“Stats say it all,” Ford said.
That and McGruder's big finish.
While some of the players have changed, with three freshmen playing key roles for the Cowboys, the road result — for one game — was the same.
“We are a very young team,” Ford said. “But we've got some very experienced minutes. So no excuses there. We've played in big games and all of our players have played in big games, whether it's high school or AAU or whatever it is.
“There should have been no surprise. No surprise.”