Updated at: 02/12/2013 1:38 AM
By KATHLEEN GIER
(AP) LAWRENCE, Kan. - Kansas State took a rare conference lead into Allen Fieldhouse on Monday night.
The 10th-ranked Wildcats left with a familiar loss.
Rodney McGruder had 17 of his 20 points in the second half, when the game had mostly been decided, and the 14th-ranked Jayhawks routed the Wildcats 83-62 to end a three-game losing streak and forge a tie with their in-state rival for first place in the Big 12.
"It’s a tough environment and we caught them at the wrong time," said Kansas State coach Bruce Weber, whose team had capitalized on the Jayhawks’ poor play with its own four-game winning streak to move into sole possession of first place in the conference.
"It should have been more of a game."
Midway through the first half, Kansas State was in foul trouble and Kansas had already built a double-digit lead. It only grew as the Jayhawks were up 47-29 at halftime.
So much for having the higher ranking in Lawrence for the first time since Feb. 20, 1983.
"They hit a couple 3s, but they also got a couple easy dunks," Wildcats guard Will Spradling said. "When they get dunks at home, that gets the crowd going too, and they feed off that crowd really well."
Ben McLemore scored 30 points on his 20th birthday to lead the Jayhawks (20-4, 8-3 Big 12). Jeff Withey had 17 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks, giving him 263 for his career, one shy of the conference’s career mark held by Chris Mihm of Texas.
Withey even had a couple of steals as he helped the Jayhawks pull even with the Wildcats (19-5, 8-3) in the league race _ though two of those loses by Kansas State have come against the bullies just down Interstate 70.
"I can’t dwell on it," McGruder said of the Wildcats’ struggles against Kansas, which includes six straight defeats in Lawrence. "That’s something I can dwell on once my career is over at K-State, but now I just have to get ready for the next game."
Kansas won for the 11th time in the last 12 games between the in-state rivals, and for the 46th time in their last 49 meetings, prompting the student section to chant "This is our state!" once again in the closing minutes.
Many of those fans had started to fret lately.
After winning 18 straight games, the Jayhawks had lost three in a row for the first time since February 2005, tumbling from No. 2 in the AP poll all the way down to No. 14.
Most of the Jayhawks’ struggles the past two weeks have centered on their offense, which had produced just 13 points in the first half of an embarrassing loss to TCU last Wednesday night.
That wasn’t much of a problem against the Wildcats.
McLemore, Kansas’ star freshman, was 9 of 13 from the field and 6 of 10 from 3. Kevin Young had 13 points, Travis Releford added 10, and Naadir Tharpe had seven points with eight assists and only one turnover in the quintessential get-right kind of game.
"What we’re going through is what 99 percent of teams in America go through," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "There’s only 1 percent that doesn’t go through this kind of stretch. And we’re spoiled because it’s been a long time since we went through one of these stretches."
Kansas was prepared from the opening tip.
Young, their all-energy forward, started a big first-half run with a dunk off a nifty feed from Tharpe, one of six assists he had in the first half. Withey was the recipient of Young’s feed on the next trip, and McLemore’s 3-pointer from the wing forced the Wildcats to call time out.
It didn’t do much to ebb the tide.
Kansas put together a 14-3 run, and soon followed it up with a 12-3 charge fueled by Tharpe and McLemore, giving the Jayhawks a 40-19 lead with 3:26 remaining in the first half.
Kansas ended up shooting 58.6 percent from the field, and 5 of 10 from beyond the arc, in building a 47-29 halftime lead. It was the most points the offensively troubled Jayhawks had scored in a half since putting up 53 in the first half against American on Dec. 29.
Kansas State clawed within 58-43 with 14:04 to go, but Withey snuffed the comeback.
The reigning Big 12 defensive player of the year swatted away a shot by McGruder and, moments later, threw down a massive dunk over Jordan Henriquez _ a fellow 7-footer _ before finishing off the three-point play. Withey then rejected McGruder at the other end, and Releford had the putback to restore the Jayhawks’ 20-point lead, 63-43, with 11:59 remaining.
The Jayhawks put the game on cruise control down the stretch, giving Weber _ who once followed Self as the man in charge at Illinois _ his third loss in three tries against the eight-time defending Big 12 champions.
"We’re still in first place," Weber said. "I told them if we win the rest of our games, we win our league. It’ll be tough, but at the same time, that’s how we have to approach it."
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)