It was loud. It was close. But all in all Tuesday night at Bramlage Coliseum, Kansas was in control from the start. The noise wasn't a factor as KU remained calm down the stretch and forced K-State into the mistakes typical of a road team in a tough environment.
"That game went just as you all predicted. Not too artistic." Kansas coach Bill Self said after the game. "A game like this comes down to a few plays and we made 'em down the stretch."
The strategy was pretty clear on both ends of the floor for the Jayhawks. On offense, Kansas relentlessly attacked Will Spradling. The sophomore guard had a dreadful time keeping Kansas's athletic guards in front of him and that, along with Kansas's stiff defense, seemed to affect him on the other side of the floor. Spradling was scoreless and much of Kansas's offense came off drives past Spradling and good ball movement following.
Meanwhile on the other end of the floor, KU was going to make Shane Southwell beat them and do whatever it took to not let Rodney McGruder. Southwell finished with a game-high 19 points, but it played into Kansas's gameplan. McGruder was held to just 2 points in the first half and outside of a short stretch to start the 2nd half, was ineffective.
"We knew he was the guy they were going to go to." said Travis Releford, Kansas's senior defensive stopper who drew the assignment of McGruder. "The first half I thought I did real well making him uncomfortable and not letting him get easy looks at the rim."
The strategy was deeper than simply "don't make it easy" though and KU executed it to perfection.
"Our whole emphasis was to force them outside. Go ballside on screens and not let them curl." said Self. This kept everything funneled to the outside and as Releford said, away from the rim.
"Shoutout to our assistant coaches. We knew their tendencies." Said Releford. "We knew they'd run a tight curl around a lot of screens…it was our scouting report." A good scout was blatantly evident as Releford navigated the screens with ease, not giving McGruder a single quality look in the first half.
The second half was a different story which kept K-State in the game. Releford said they went more pick and pop in the 2nd half, fading off the screens which gave McGruder room to rise up.
"They didn't do anything differently in the 2nd half. I just rose up and shot over it in the second shot and I hit shots." said the senior who finished with 13 points on 12 shots.
The problem for K-State was the hot run from McGruder was answered with a burst from Ben McLemore that included two spectacular blocks and most of the super frosh's 11 points.
The game was close the entire second half, but Bruce Weber seemed to know he was holding on for dear life. His last three timeouts were spent when the next stoppage in play would have resulted in a media timeout. The first two came because he saw his players were tired and thought they needed a breath. The last came on a broken possession in an attempt to draw up a play with six seconds left on the shot clock.
In a game that tight, every possession is critical and K-State fans will be left guessing if some late timeouts could've swung the outcome. Instead, Weber decided he couldn't wait and lived with the result. That result is a loss in his first Sunflower Showdown and a seat alone in first place for KU atop the Big 12.