Kansas State wears down Oklahoma State, advances to Big 12 title game

David Smale, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- No. 11 Kansas State broke from its normal pattern of patience and tempo to wear down No. 14 Oklahoma State 68-57 to advance to the championship game of the Big 12 Championship at Sprint Center Friday night. The Wildcats will get their third shot at in-state rival Kansas on Saturday.
The Wildcats (27-6) outscored the more athletic Cowboys 16-9 on the fast break.
"I don't think there's any doubt (that Oklahoma State was tired)," Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said. "We watched the second half last night and really thought they were getting a little tired even in that Baylor game.
"I think our guys noticed it."
His counterpart for Oklahoma State, Travis Ford didn't feel like fatigue hurt his team, but he did acknowledge that it could have caused some difficulty.
"We got 17 offensive rebounds," he said. "We were fighting out there. We may have been a step slow in fighting and moving, but I thought our guys were trying to make things happen."
The Cowboys (24-8) appeared to be feeling the effects of a tough quarterfinal game against Baylor Thursday night. The Cowboys led that game by 18 points at halftime, but then saw the Bears storm all the way back to tie the contest with 21 seconds left. Two free throws by Phil Forte gave OSU the lead, but Pierre Jackson's game-winning 3-pointer barely caromed off the rim at the buzzer.
The Wildcats took control of the game with patience, often running the shot clock down to single-digits, but when the Cowboys appeared to be dragging, K-State put the pedal down.
"That's when we made the run," point guard Angel Rodriguez said. "We've got a lot of guys who come in the game and help us play with a lot of energy. We've got to take advantage of that."
Rodney McGruder led the Wildcats with 25 points. Rodriguez added 17.
"We got going on transition," McGruder said. "We forced them to take some bad shots. That allowed us to push the ball on the break and we got baskets."
Oklahoma State was led by Marcus Smart with 18 points and Le'Bryan Nash with 11.
Many of OSU's shots hit the front of the rim, and they seemed a little slow to the loose balls. Oklahoma State shot just 31 percent for the game from the field, though they were 16 of 20 from the line, including 14 of 14 in the second half.
"I don't think it was much of a factor," Smart said of the fatigue factor. "We came out and we played hard. We weren't doing it on the defensive end, and that's what was hurting our momentum."
McGruder helped the Wildcats get off to a quick start in the second half. He scored the first eight points for the Cats to open up a 12-point lead at 37-25. Oklahoma State responded with a 6-0 run, but the Wildcats pulled away again on back-to-back 3-pointers by Shane Southwell and Rodriguez, followed by a thunderous dunk by Thomas Gipson.
"They brought their hard hats tonight," Ford said. "We didn't come out of the gates the way we wanted to in the first five minutes. I thought we really competed in the last 35 minutes. But we never got rhythm at all offensively."
Oklahoma State kept trying to regain momentum by driving to the basket, but the Cowboys had nothing to show for it.
Both teams struggled from the field in the first half. Oklahoma State was 9 of 28 (32 percent), while Kansas State was 10 of 32 (31 percent). With all those missed shots, rebounding played a critical role. Each squad pulled down 22 rebounds in the half.
Smart carried the Cowboys in the first half. He led all scorers with 12 points. He also grabbed four rebounds as he single-handedly kept the Cowboys close. Only three other players scored for Oklahoma State.
Kansas State's offense was more balanced. McGruder led the Wildcats with seven points, while Irving and Rodriguez each tallied six points.
NOTES: Oklahoma State was in the semifinals of the Big 12 Championship for the seventh time in the 17-year history of the tournament, and the first time since 2009. The Cowboys have won the tournament twice, in 2004 and 2005. ... Kansas State is appearing in its fourth semifinals, having advanced to the championship game only once (2010). The Wildcats have never won the tournament championship. ... Kansas State won its first conference championship (tied with Kansas) since 1977.

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