The Inside Slant

MANHATTAN, Kan. - What home-court edge? The Kansas State Wildcats go 5-4 at home and on the road in Big 12.

Not long after Bob Huggins brought a new basketball culture to Kansas State, which continued after the promotion of Frank Martin to head coach, the Wildcats' home was dubbed the Octagon of Doom.

Bramlage Coliseum quickly rose as one of the most difficult places to play in the Big 12, and even drew comparisons to Ahearn Fieldhouse, where the Wildcats played when they frequently challenged for Big Seven and Big Eight titles under Tex Winter and Jack Hartman.

This season, however, Bramlage hardly spelled doom for Kansas State's conference opponents. The Wildcats finished with just as good a record (5-4) in Big 12 road games as they posted at home, and they needed a 77-58 home win against Oklahoma State in the last game of the regular season just to make both marks even.

"How crazy is that, huh?" Martin said. "That we've been real good at home the last five years, been mixed on the road and this year we can't win at home. With a young team and a team that's had its difficult moments, you can't look too deep into it."

Well, you can. And when you do, it is easy to realize Kansas State could have been even better ... on the road. Two losses, at Iowa State and at Texas, came after holding leads of 14 and 15 points, respectively, in the second half.

"We could have very easily won seven road games, that's how close they've been," Martin said. "We're right there, and losing at home is not something we like."

At least Kansas State took care of business against Oklahoma State and improved to 21-9 overall with a 10-8 finish in the Big 12, which was good for fifth. The Wildcats meet Baylor on March 8 in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament.

Anything Kansas State can achieve in Kansas City could help the Wildcats in terms of seeding in the NCAA Tournament, an event they will reach for the fourth time in Martin's five years as coach. Before that, the Wildcats went 12 years without an NCAA bid.

NOTES, QUOTES

Kansas State cools off but still routs Cowboys

--Maybe Kansas State got a little trigger happy from 3-point range in its 77-58 victory against Oklahoma State on March 3, but then few could blame the Wildcats. They were coming off a 12-for-17 effort from that distance in a 76-70 win at Texas A&M on Feb. 28. Kansas State missed just one of its nine tries from behind the arc in that win. Against the Cowboys, the team cooled to 6-for-22, though the Wildcats' top long-range threat, G Rodney McGruder, went 4-for-6. Kansas State did manage to shoot 51.7 percent, climbing to 6-1 when it made at least half its shots.

--The two seniors on the Kansas State roster, F Jamar Samuels and F Victor Ojeleye, tied the school record for the most wins (95) by any class. Last season, G Jacob Pullen also left with 95 victories. Samuels scored 17 points and added 12 rebounds on March 3 against Oklahoma State, overcoming the disappointment of a travel snag that prevented his mother, Ernestine, as well as other members of Samuels' family, from attending the Senior Day pregame ceremony. Family members eventually made it to Bramlage Coliseum, though Anya Martin, wife of Kansas State coach Frank Martin, accompanied Samuels during the pregame salute.

--Although G Rodney McGruder is catching fire down the stretch with three performances exceeding 20 points in the last four games, his defense earned him a tribute from Martin following the win against Oklahoma State. He was assigned to the Cowboys' sharpshooter, Keiton Page, in the second half and held the OSU senior to eight points. "His freshman year he couldn't defend me," Martin said. "Now, we can put him on the best (player). He never gets beat on defense."

BY THE NUMBERS: 13 --
Games in which Kansas State received at least 20 from reserves. The Wildcats averaged 17.4 bench points in Big 12 play.

QUOTE TO NOTE:
"A positive experience like this and going out doing things well gives us an opportunity to really get some momentum going into the Big 12 Tournament. I think that's really important to everybody's spirits and just gets us prepared." -- Kansas State F Victor Ojeleye.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAMES:

--vs. Baylor, quarterfinals, Big 12 Tournament, Kansas City, Mo., March 8.

KEY MATCHUPS:

Kansas State split with Baylor during the regular season with each team winning on the road. The Wildcats won the second matchup on Feb. 18, getting a stop at the end to preserve a 57-56 victory after G Angel Rodriguez was called for traveling on a wide-open layup attempt. Each team possesses inside length, though the Bears offer more resistance (at least against the Wildcats) when playing man-to-man defense rather than sticking to their zone.

FUTURES MARKET:

Kansas State closed strong, winning four of its last five Big 12 games to finish with a winning record in Big 12 play and perhaps improving its seed for the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats may avoid a potential second-round matchup against a No. 1 seed if they did enough to get a No. 7 seed. The key moving forward is for F Jamar Samuels to continue his inspired performances and avoid foul trouble.

PLAYER NOTES

--Senior F Jamar Samuels posted double-doubles in four of the last six games, enjoying Senior Day with 17 points and 12 rebounds against Oklahoma State on March 3. The Wildcats are 12-1 in Samuels' career when he posts a double-double.

--Junior G Rodney McGruder recorded his ninth 20-point game by going 10 of 14 and netting 24 points against Oklahoma State. The Wildcats are 11-2 in the 13 career games McGruder posted at least 20 points.

--Junior G Jeremy Jones recovered from an injured foot to play for the first time in 11 games. He played 13 minutes against Oklahoma State and contributed three points on 1-for-5 shooting.


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