The Kansas State coach exhorted a full house in Bramlage Coliseum to make more noise and give the Wildcats more support. After trailing by a point after a lackluster first half, Kansas State eventually recovered to thump Texas A&M 64-53.
The victory pushed the Wildcats to 16-6 overall and 5-5 in the Big 12 as they learned to get by without their leading scorer, Rodney McGruder. The junior guard did play 27 minutes, but only 10 came in the second half. He rested a strained toe, and two other backcourt members, Will Spradling and Angel Rodriguez, helped steer a decisive 27-6 spurt.
Rodriguez, a freshman who fouled out of the previous two games, scored nine straight points during one stretch. Spradling, who had made one 3-pointer in the previous four games, nailed four of five 3-pointers and netted a career-best 19 points.
Their performance in light of McGruder going just 1-for-9 was a nice pick-me-up for a team that was beginning to drop squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble. Much work remains, but the Wildcats at least grew comfortable again with their home court after losing Big 12 games earlier in the season against Baylor and Oklahoma.
"I guess you could say there was a little pressure on us, but we responded in a good way," Rodriguez said.
Given Rodriguez is a freshman and Spradling is a sophomore, Martin figured a little boost from the crowd was necessary while counting on the duo for the bulk of Kansas State's play at the point.
"Our guys, they were laying it on the line in the second half," Martin said. "I wanted that crowd to help our guys keep that energy."
--Ever since Will Spradling arrived at Kansas State, the shooting guard has required encouragement to shoot. Sometimes Spradling grows passive while attempting to get teammates into the offensive flow. Other times he seems to tire because of the work he puts in guarding opponents' top perimeter threats. Still, Kansas State coach Frank Martin realizes for the sophomore to be most effective, he needs to launch shots.
"I don't care if you miss, I really don't," Martin said. "Obviously I'd like you to make shots, that makes things a little bit easier. But if you're open, you're supposed to shoot."
After going 1-for-13 from 3-point range the previous four games, Spradling scored 19 points on 4-for-5 shooting from behind the arc in the 64-53 victory against Texas A&M. He even converted a four-point play as part of a six-point trip during the first half after the Wildcats fell behind by 10.
--It could be that the sellout crowd that attended Kansas State's 64-53 win against Texas A&M on Feb. 4 was just saving its collective voice. The game was the first of a doubleheader in which Kansas State recorded two sellouts. Four hours after the tipoff of the men's game, the women's team took the floor against top-ranked Baylor and Brittney Griner. While Kansas State officials came away beaming after listing two sellouts of 12,528, the full house did not make a difference in the women's game, as the Wildcats were drubbed 70-41.
--After Kansas State's 72-70 defeat at Iowa State on Jan. 31, Martin was critical of the officiating, in particular a no-call on a drive by G Rodney McGruder with slightly more than one minute remaining. McGruder, who entered the game as the second-leading scorer in Big 12 play, did not shoot a free throw in the game. "For him not to shoot a free throw is a joke, an absolute joke," said Martin, among other comments. The Big 12 did not announce any penalty, though it might have delivered a private reprimand.
BY THE NUMBERS: .500 --
Record (18-18) Kansas State carried in Big 12 road games under Frank Martin before the Jan. 31 loss at Iowa State.
QUOTE TO NOTE:
"I'm going to keep the confidence and go into practice feeling better about myself and keep being aggressive. I am not going to relax like I did with the rest of the games where I haven't been playing well." -- Kansas State G Will Spradling.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--vs. Texas Tech, Feb. 7
After bouncing back with a home win against Texas A&M, the Wildcats should get another breather when Texas Tech rolls in. At 0-10, the Red Raiders are off to their worst Big 12 start in history, with young players who have been overmatched. First-year coach Billy Gillispie brought in 10 newcomers when the season started, and inconsistency has plagued the Red Raiders ever since. Kansas State won the first meeting by 22 points in Lubbock.
--at Texas, Feb. 11
Kansas State was in control of the first matchup before surviving an 84-80 nail-biter after missing several free throws down the stretch. The Longhorns lost five games to ranked opponents during a recent seven-game stretch. G J'Covan Brown led the Big 12 with a 19.6-point average on a league-high 368 field-goal attempts through Feb. 5. C Clint Chapman had a career-high 20-point performance in a Feb. 4 win against Texas Tech.
If G Angel Rodriguez can develop some consistency and confidence, the freshman has the tools to effectively operate the point for Kansas State. Silly fouls have been his biggest nemesis and prevented him from playing extended minutes. When he's at his best, the push he adds to the Wildcats' attack provides more dimensions. He scored nine straight points during a second-half stretch in which Kansas State pulled away from Texas A&M on Feb. 4.
--Junior G Rodney McGruder was hampered by a strained toe against Texas A&M, though the injury was not considered serious. He made just one of nine shots and was held to five points, the first time since Dec. 23 against UTEP that McGruder failed to score in double figures.
--Senior F Jamar Samuels, freshman G Angel Rodriguez and junior F Jordan Henriquez were all slowed by illnesses during the Iowa State game. Freshman F Thomas Gipson first contracted the bug and played sparingly in a Jan. 28 loss to Oklahoma.
--Freshman F Adrian Diaz scored six points against Texas A&M as part of a 10-point effort from the Kansas State bench, which tied the team's season low.