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MBB : Syracuse looks to shut down Wildcats star McGruder in third-round matchup Saturday

first_imgPITTSBURGH – Whether it was 5 a.m. or 10 p.m., Frank Martin knew where he could find Rodney McGruder during his freshman season. The highly touted recruit, No. 84 overall according to Rivals.com, would in the gym with his mentor.‘He looked at the guys that were having success on our team and that’s who he embraced,’ Kansas State head coach Frank Martin said. ‘Denis Clemente was a workout machine. Rodney migrated to Denis right away.’Clemente led the Wildcats all the way to the Elite Eight in 2009-10, scoring 16.6 points per game and dishing out 4.2 assists. He was known for his toughness and relentless hustle.His backcourt partner, Jacob Pullen, poured in nearly 20 points per game. They formed one of the best backcourt duos in the country. It was a duo defined by grit and hard work.Following in their footsteps, McGruder, now a junior, has emerged as one of the best guards in the country. He is the team’s leading scorer at 15.9 points per game. Now, he attempts to impart the same lessons on his younger teammates that were once imparted on him two years ago.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textHe willed his team to a victory in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, scoring 30 of his team’s 70 total points. Now, Kansas State (22-10) prepares to face No. 1 Syracuse (32-2) in the third round on Saturday at 12:15 p.m., and the Orange will need to limit his production if it hopes to advance.‘He’s a very, very good player,’ SU head coach Jim Boeheim said. ‘He can shoot it. He can drive. He’s a terrific player. He really is. Tremendous player. Those kind of guys are always difficult to play against.’Ninth-seeded Southern Mississippi found out how difficult McGruder was to play against on Thursday afternoon. He shredded the Golden Eagles both inside and out.He scored his 30 points on 11-of-16 shooting from the field. He was the only KSU player to hit a 3-pointer, and he made two of them.‘He’s a slasher and he’s a shooter,’ Wildcats power forward Thomas Gipson said. ‘He can basically do it all. That’s a great teammate.’Syracuse’s trademark 2-3 zone defense will go up against McGruder on Saturday. Both Gipson and teammate Will Spradling said McGruder’s game matches up well to a zone defense.They cited three games against Baylor this year – a team that plays a similar, albeit less aggressive zone defense – as sources of confidence. McGruder reached double figures in all three games against the Bears this year, including a 30-point outpouring on Jan. 10.Spradling said McGruder is able to get into the gaps of a zone and hit the pull-up jumper from 14 or 15 feet. It’s a shot Martin described as pivotal, because it causes the zone to collapse if a player begins to knock them down consistently.And if a defense sags off of him, he hits 3s at a 39.1 percent clip.‘When he’s out on the perimeter, we’re going to shade to the side, get up a little higher and not allow him to become comfortable,’ Syracuse guard Brandon Triche said. ‘We just want to bottle him up a little bit. I think the best way that we can do that is just being active, take him off his spots, make him put the ball on the floor a little bit more.’Containing McGruder is crucial. Forward Jamar Samuels is the only other KSU player who averages double figures, but Southern Mississippi held him to a single point yesterday.In Kansas State’s run to the Elite Eight two years ago, which included a double-overtime win over Xavier, McGruder hardly played. His minutes were limited and not very consistent as a freshman.Playing behind Clemente and Pullen taught McGruder how to avoid a panic and handle any situation. McGruder’s teammates have full confidence in him to lead just as well as those two players did.‘Especially from that Xavier game my freshman year, that was a tough game,’ McGruder said. ‘I just watched those guys, how they stayed the course. They never got too overwhelmed or felt like too much pressure was on them.’In this 2012 tournament, the pressure is on McGruder’s shoulders. A Kansas State upset over top-seeded Syracuse is almost surely dependent on his ability to score the basketball. A lot.Despite the pressure, McGruder remains cool – just like Clemente and Pullen did. His voice was relaxed at the podium on Friday, and he certainly didn’t seem tense.Two years after riding the bench to a pair of seasoned leaders, McGruder is ready for his turn. Syracuse will do its best to stop him.‘I think we shut him down, make it tougher for him,’ Orange guard Scoop Jardine said. ‘We should be fine.’[email protected] Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on March 16, 2012 at 12:00 pm Contact Michael: [email protected] | @Michael_Cohen13center_img Commentslast_img


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