The Wildcats' 40-18 run to finish the game was impressive, and can be seen as even more impressive considering that they played much of it with depth problems that led to the creation of some new lineups on the floor. Adding to it all, neither of K-State's regular starting posts saw the floor in the final seven minutes of the game.
With Marques Hayden sitting on the sidelines, K-State Coach Jim Wooldridge was presented with an interesting situation to begin Monday night against the Central Missouri State Mules- replacing a tire in what has been a four-wheel post rotation up to that point in the season. Both Justin Williams and Tyler Hughes saw increased minutes against the Mules, but when rest was needed a gap was present. Early on, Wooldridge filled the gap by inserting Lance Harris into the game and dropping Cartier Martin down to the four-spot. While this line-up held the Mules scoreless, it also failed to generate any points, and was abandoned after just over a minute.
Later on in the half, seldom-used senior Travis Canby was given an opportunity to bang down low. After being beaten twice on defense, and garnering no rebounds and one foul, Canby was promptly removed and would not see the floor again until the waning minutes of the contest when the game was in-hand.
The seemingly undersized Martin-on-the-block offense returned later in the half and fared much better, helping give the Wildcats a 34-31 halftime edge. This lineup would also see extended periods of action in the second half, including a key stretch after Massey went down to an ankle injury. Martin said he had no problem shifting down low to help out his team. "In high school I played the four and five (post positions)," Martin said, "So I'm comfortable there. I've just got to get my groove back a little bit."
Massey, who was in the process of another solid outing with 20 points and eight rebounds, went down hard on his ankle with just over seven minutes remaining in the game. He was helped off the court, and eventually back to the locker room. Players and coaches alike seemed unsure of what to make of Massey's injury or his status for the upcoming games. "I don't know the degree of the severity of it," said Wooldridge. "Hopefully it's not something he can't recover from quickly."
"He's a big key player and we'll need him (in Big 12 Play)," Cartier Martin said. Martin, who scored 13 points and grabbed eight rebounds, returned to the post position in the wake of Massey's injury and helped the Wildcats continue their game finishing run.
With Hayden sitting, several of his teammates stepped up their production cleaning the glass. Justin Williams, Fred Peete, Massey and Martin combined for 35 of the Wildcats' 44 team rebounds. "We knew we had to crash the boards, and basically pick up the slack," said Peete, who also led the Wildcats with 25 points, regarding the team's play in Hayden's absence.
Concerning Hayden's situation, Wooldridge said "I think Marques is really frustrated, and I think he's have having a hard time when he gets frustrated of handling that frustration in a positive way."
Regarding Hayden "not fitting the system," Wooldridge said, "I think every player fits the system; and the system is play hard, play together." "It's a pretty easy system," Wooldridge continued, while cracking a smile. Reflecting on playing without one of their starters, Martin agreed that Hayden's contributions would make a difference the rest of the season. "Marques is going to be a key player once he gets back on the floor," Martin said. "He's a brother of ours," said Fred Peete.
With the Wildcats beginning Big 12 competition at Nebraska on Saturday, one key concern was stated succinctly by Cartier Martin. "We're just kind of playing to the competition's level right now," Martin said.
"I think we're still learning and developing who we are and how we need to play," Wooldridge said when questioned of his team's trend of playing at the level of the competition. "It's still an on-going process. I can tell you for sure that we're not a finished product right now."
The Wildcats' success in the upcoming Big 12 schedule is going to lean heavily on the suddenly-present depth situation. Wooldridge said he anticipates Hayden returning on Saturday, but the status of Massey remains up in the air. Against Big 12 competition that often brings more size down low than many non-conference foes, a presence in the post will be a necessity for the Wildcats. If Massey does miss some time, a strong, confident return of Hayden, along with solid outings from Williams, Hughes and Martin will be large keys to early success.
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