ATLANTA — Rodney McGruder stepped to the line in the cavernous Georgia Dome, took a couple of quick breaths, and knocked down four straight foul shots to finish off his career a winner.
Kansas State’s guard finished with 11 points, James Ennis of Long Beach State scored 13 and the East team beat the West 87-81 on Friday night in a college all-star game at the Final Four.
The East team, coached by Tennessee’s Cuonzo Martin, built a 15-point lead in the second half before squandering nearly all of it. But the West, coached by Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg, couldn’t finish the comeback, even though they started fouling down the stretch to extend the game.
Jake Cohen of Davidson made a couple free throws, and McGruder made the final four with less than 20 seconds left in the game to wrap up the victory.
“It was fun, you know? Playing with guys you aren’t used to,” said McGruder, who led the Wildcats to a share of the Big 12 title this season, before breaking into a smile. “I won my last college game, and it was at the Georgia Dome.”
E.J. Singler of Oregon and Brandon Davies of BYU finished with 12 each for the East team.
Iowa State’s Will Clyburn, playing one last time with his college coach, led the West with 17 points and eight rebounds. Mike Muscala of Bucknell scored 15 points and Notre Dame’s Jack Cooley had 13 points and 10 rebounds as both teams struggled to shoot in the converted football stadium.
“It was a great feeling,” Clyburn said. “Fun being here in an all-star game.”
The game featured 11 seniors on each team, including Baylor guard Pierre Jackson, who led his team to the NIT championship the previous night at Madison Square Garden. He hopped on a plane and made it to Atlanta, but watched the game in warm-ups without ever stepping onto the floor.
The game basically amounted to a scrimmage with both teams hardly having a chance to meet each other, much less practice or even shoot against the blank backdrop of the Georgia Dome.
As you’d expect, there were just about as many air balls as made shots early on — but there were a few dunks, including one by Davies off a feed from Ohio’s D.J. Cooper that brought several thousand fans who turned out to watch to their feet, and some nifty ball movement on both sides.
Creighton’s Gregory Echenique probably would beg to differ with the notion that it was little more than an exhibition game, though. He got popped under the basket during one rebound flurry and had to leave the court with a towel held up to his lip to stop the blood.
The East team built a 43-33 lead at halftime, but the West managed to close the gap behind a 17-4 run fed primarily by 3-pointers. The East pulled back out to a 77-66 advantage in the closing minutes, but Hoiberg started pressing and then had his team foul in the final seconds.
“I kind of felt obligated to try to win,” he said with a shrug.
It nearly worked, too, until Cohen and McGruder made enough free throws to wrap it up.