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MANHATTAN, KAN. – The USC Upstate men's basketball team held an early lead Sunday afternoon at Kansas State, but the Wildcats put together a late first-half run to pull away and defeat the Spartans 72-53 at Bramlage Coliseum in non-conference action.
The Wildcats (6-1), receiving votes in the latest USA Today Coaches Poll, win the first-ever meeting between the two schools, while the Spartans (3-5) end a season-long six-game road swing that featured games in four different states in a 15-day span.
"I was disappointed in how we played," Head Coach Eddie Payne said following the loss. "Kansas State is a very good defensive team though, they are tough and physical so you don't get a lot of easy looks."
The Spartans used a balanced scoring attack in the opening minutes against Kansas State and had five players in the scoring column when Upstate took its first lead of the game with 11:57 remaining in the opening half. A driving layup by Fred Miller handed the Spartans their first lead at 10-8, and the advantage stretched to four points on a jumper in the lane from Jodd Maxey less than 30 seconds later.
"They have a really good ball club," Kansas State Head Coach Bruce Weber said. "When we looked at it going into all these non-conference games they had 21 wins last year and the best turn-around in the country."
The score was deadlocked four times and changed hands twice in the first half, but the Wildcats seized control over the final six minutes, using a 16-2 run to take the first double-digit lead of the game. A bucket from Ricardo Glenn with exactly 5:00 minutes on the clock cut the Kansas State lead to just a pair, but Upstate was held scoreless the remainder of the half and trailed 36-20 heading to intermission.
"Things were going pretty good for us and then they picked it up and got more physical and I thought our guys caved a little bit," Payne said. "We rushed some shots and they got on a little run towards the end of the first half and made us pay."
KSU came out in the second period and picked up right where they left off in the first half, scoring seven straight points and stretching the lead to 23 points before Upstate came alive and used a driving layup by Torrey Craig and a dunk off a strong move by Jodd Maxey to cut into the deficit.
The Wildcats' powerful offensive continued to pull away from Upstate and a Rodney McGruder layup with 12:37 left extended the lead to 27 points, creating the largest advantage for KSU at 58-31.
The Spartans never backed down however, battling back to within 20 points four different times, before Fred Miller knocked down a free throw with nine seconds left to cut the lead to 19 and create the final margin of victory at 72-53.
"They did not quit," Weber said. "I have to give them credit, they played very hard. When we watched them on tape we were like man they are really good offensively. If they play like that all season they will win a lot of games this year."
McGruder paced the Wildcats with a game-high 22 points and seven rebounds, while three other KSU players finished in double figures, including 11 points from Thomas Gipson.
"I think Kansas State will have an opportunity to be a factor in the Big 12 and perhaps nationally because they aren't going to beat themselves," Payne said. "They are going to get on the glass and they are going to guard you."
Maxey led the Spartans with a season-high 13 points, going 6-for-8 from the field and adding two blocks and one steal, while Craig extended his double-digit scoring streak with 12 points and a game-high three steals.
"Craig is a good player," Weber said. "Rodney (McGruder) did a really good job limiting him and Greene can shoot the ball also and Will (Sprading) did a good job too, we never let them get in rhythm."
The Spartans struggled once again from the free throw line, connecting on just 12 of 23 attempts for 52 percent. The story was just as dim from long, going 1-for-11 from behind the arc for nine percent.
The Spartans return home for the first time in 26 days this Saturday, welcoming the University of Texas San Antonio to town for the second matchup between the two clubs this season.
The Roadrunners used a second-half comeback last month to pick up an eight-point victory over the Spartans, but Upstate returns home where it holds a nine-game winning streak. Tip-off against UTSA is slated for 2 p.m. in The Hodge Center.