MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) Rodney McGruder scored 18 points to lead a big second-half charge, Will Spradling was solid from the foul line and Kansas State held off Charleston Southern 72-67 on Friday night, surviving a big scare from the school from the Big South.
Spradling finished with 15 points, and Jordan Henriquez and Shane Southwell each added 11 for the Wildcats, who trailed by as many as 15 in the second half before using a big run and some stingy half-court pressure defense to win their ninth consecutive season opener.
Jeremy Sexton scored 19 points and freshman Saah Nimley had 13 for the Buccaneers (0-1), who looked nothing like a team coming off a mediocre 16-16 finish last season.
Of course, Kansas State looked nothing like an NCAA tournament-caliber team, either.
Spradling’s 3-pointer from in front of the K-State bench with 2:24 remaining made it 64-62, and McGruder’s basket pushed the lead to 66-62. Spradling made six straight free throws down the stretch to seal the victory, allowing the home crowd to heave a sigh of relief.
The Wildcats, playing without Jamal Samuels while he serves a three-game suspension for a violation of team rules, struggled in just about every aspect of the game. They shot 30 percent from the field in the first half, committed 19 turnovers and were out-rebounded 48-39.
It was a rough way to start the post-Jacob Pullen era.
Pullen, who now plays for Angelico Biella of the Italian League, graduated after a stellar career in which he set school records for scoring (2,132 points), games played (135), double-digit scoring games (105), 3-point field goals (299) and steals (210). Pullen helped the Wildcats reach three NCAA tournaments and win 95 games during his four-year run in Manhattan.
The Wildcats have a long way to go if they want to achieve that kind of success this season.
Kansas State looked like it would be in for an easy night midway through the first half, when Spradling converted a three-point play and Southwell’s free throw made it 24-16.
That’s when the parade of turnovers and missed shots started.
The Wildcats made just one of their next 15 field goal attempts, committed three turnovers and even missed their only two free throws during a nearly 7-minute stretch, one that had coach Frank Martin sitting on the sideline with his chin tucked glumly in his hand.
Charleston Southern took advantage at the other end, rattling off a 19-2 run.
Sexton started it with a pair of free throws, and later on, Arlon Harper a native of Emporia, Kan. drained a 3-pointer while scoring seven straight. Nimley finished off the run when he scored with 4:10 left in the first half, giving the Buccaneers a 35-26 lead.
The lead was 49-35 at halftime, and it swelled to 52-37 on a free throw by Kelvin Martin early in the second half. But the Wildcats finally went on their big run, keyed largely by their ball pressure, creating five turnovers in seven possessions and scoring 12 unanswered points.
By the time McGruder stripped Chris Grier of the ball and scored on the fast break, Kansas State climbed within 52-49 with 13:17 remaining, and Charleston Southern coach Barclay Radebaugh called a timeout. The crowd of 12,528 its size no doubt helped by Saturday’s football game between Kansas State and Texas A at Bramlage Coliseum was on its feet and roaring.
Still, the game wasn’t over until the closing minutes.