KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas State hadn’t had a signature win since last February, when the Wildcats did it in back-to-back fashion, beating Baylor and Missouri in road games to assure themselves an NCAA tournament berth.
First-year head coach Bruce Weber was still seeking his first victory at Kansas State against a ranked team, his first two tries coming up well short.
They got both on Saturday night against No. 8-ranked Florida in the Hy-Vee Wildcat Classic at Sprint Center, beating the Gators 67-61 and offsetting previous losses to No. 2-ranked Michigan (71-57) and No. 14 Gonzaga (68-52).
“We had to compete for 40 minutes, just to give ourselves a chance,” Weber said. “Against Michigan and against Gonzaga, you compete for 20. We didn’t have a great start to the second half tonight, either, but we don’t give ourselves a chance. In the huddle, when they made the run, I said, ‘We’ve been here before where you get to a point where the other team comes at you and do you lay down or do you step up?’
“We did a great job of defending, and I think the magic level of playing before the crowd energized us. We made some shots, which was a great confidence builder for everybody. Only 10 turnovers and 16 assists was positive against a very, very good defense.”
Will Spradling, coming back to his hometown, had what he described as the best overall game in his Kansas State career. The junior guard had team highs of 17 points and five assists, along with six rebounds. Spradling scored 13 opening-half points, hitting 3 of 5 3-pointers, as Kansas State built a 33-23 halftime lead and hit some critical baskets in the second half to hold off the Gators (8-2).
“It brought energy,” said Spradling, a product of Shawnee Mission South in suburban Overland Park, of his early sizz. “Whenever you’re shooting it well, you see the ball going through the net and brings confidence to yourself and brings confidence to your teammates, too.
“It’s probably my best all-around performance I’ve had. I didn’t have any turnovers and I played 39 minutes. I had a solid game.”
The Wildcats knocked down 7 of 17 from downtown for 41.2 percent, with Martavious Irving adding a pair of 3s and Angel Rodriguez and Shane Southwell each hitting one.
“Coach (Weber) gave us a great motivation speech before the game,” said Kansas State sharpshooter Rodney McGruder, who overcame a slow start and scored eight of his 13 points in the second half.
“We let each other down the past couple times we played against top-25 teams, and we didn’t want to have another meltdown like that. We wanted to go out there and compete for 40 minutes.”