MANHATTAN, Kan. — Lon Kruger couldn’t continue his success against his former team as Oklahoma couldn’t take care of the basketball.
Over the last decade, Kruger has had the Wildcats’ number. While coaching at Illinois, UNLV and now Oklahoma, Kruger’s record against the Wildcats was 4-1.
Now it’s 4-2.
Kruger’s team was done in by 16 turnovers in the 69-60 loss to No. 16 Kansas State on Saturday night.
“We did not take very good care of the ball, and that is entirely because the Kansas State defense was outstanding,” Kruger said. “They did a terrific job and dictated. We have not had that much trouble handling the ball on the season, and you have to credit Kansas State for that.”
Rodney McGruder scored 20 points and Will Spradling added 15 in a matchup of unbeaten Big 12 teams. Romero Osby and Amath M’Baye both scored 12 points for Oklahoma.
Shane Southwell and Angel Rodriguez both added 12 points for Kansas State. Southwell had seven rebounds, and Rodriguez had nine assists. With four Wildcats scoring in double figures, McGruder was quick to credit everyone for the win.
“We’re a team,” McGruder said. “Not just one person can lead us to victory. We do this collectively. That’s great. I’m proud of everyone who stepped up.”
The Sooners (12-4, 3-1) kept pace with the Wildcats most of the way thanks to snagging 36 rebounds to Kansas State’s 24. That would not be enough to counteract the damage done by turnovers.
“Our dives, loose balls, deflections, those little things make a difference,” Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said. “We made up for the lack of rebounding by getting those 50-50 balls, or those energy kind of plays that you need.”
Even so, Kansas State (15-2, 4-0) only got a double-digit lead in the second half. Oklahoma quickly responded with a 9-4 run that cut the Wildcats’ lead to five points.
After turning the ball over just four times in the first half, Kansas State got whistled for a backcourt violation and a travel on consecutive possessions. Oklahoma took advantage of neither opportunity.
Instead, the Wildcats rallied from the series of mistakes with an 8-1 run that began with a contested 3 by Spradling and continued with a basket by Jordan Henriquez and McGruder’s fourth 3 of the game. Free throws by Spradling gave Kansas State a 51-37 lead with 8:50 remaining.
With the Wildcats up 52-39 a few minutes later, Oklahoma went on a 9-2 run that included two baskets by Osby and a 3 by Steven Pledger, bringing the Sooners within 52-48.
Spradling promptly hit a long jumper to widen the gap to 55-48.
Rodriguez helped seal the deal in the closing minutes with a slashing layup in the paint and a 3 that put Kansas State up 61-52 with 2:25 left.
Down 66-56 with just under a minute to play, the Sooners resorted to fouling, and the Wildcats prevailed.
The game stayed close in the first half thanks to Oklahoma’s rebounding and Kansas State’s scoring off turnovers. The Sooners’ 20-10 edge on the boards yielded 16 points in the paint in the first half, but the Wildcats offset that advantage by scoring 19 points off 11 Oklahoma turnovers.
“That’s entirely because of Kansas State,” Kruger said. “I thought their defense was outstanding.”
The Sooners got as much separation as they ever would when Andrew Fitzgerald scored twice in the paint and was credited with two more points after a goaltending call. The sequence gave Oklahoma a 12-7 lead 6 minutes into the game.
Consecutive 3s by Spradling allowed Kansas State within 14-13 of Oklahoma midway through the first half.
“I really started to understand what they were trying to do to guard us, and it actually got real easy towards the end to read them on the screens,” Spradling said. “With our bigs screening the way they did today, it was real easy to get open.”
The Wildcats briefly took the lead after Rodriguez stole the ball and converted on a fastbreak layup.
The teams traded baskets, and then an emphatic dunk by Osby on an inbounds play gave the Sooners a 21-17 lead. Two free throws each by McGruder and Adrian Diaz tied the game.
The free throws were the first points for McGruder, but apparently those were enough to get him going. He proceeded to drain 3s on three straight possessions.
The Wildcats would go on to make 10 3s in the game.