MANHATTAN - On Senior Day in Manhattan, two seniors did their part to make sure the Wildcat's left with a victory.
With 1:17 remaining in the game, and the Wildcats holding a 70-48 lead, seniors Jeremiah Massey and Justin Williams left the Bramlage Coliseum floor for the final time in their regular season playing careers. They did so to a huge ovation, smiling as they came to the bench. The Wildcats stepped closer to a postseason berth with the impressive victory, and Massey and Williams both had big games to help the Cats gain the victory.
Massey and Williams combined for 37 points and 18 rebounds, leading the Wildcats to a 73-53 victory. Massey's 25 points marked the 18th consecutive game he's put up double-figures in scoring. Williams 12 points marked his second straight game in double-figures and showed a side of Williams that was seemingly absent earlier in the season. Williams said the change in play has been fueled by meetings with Coach Jim Wooldridge prior to games, reminding him of what he needs to do. Among the main points Wooldridge stressed to Williams were, "keep yourself composed" and "keep your emotions under control."
Along with the strong play of Massey and Williams, outstanding rebounding and defensive efforts highlighted the Wildcat victory. "We were real pleased, with the exception of about five minutes of the game where we gave Nebraska poor shots and lay-ups," Wooldridge said regarding the Wildcats defense and rebounding. "The last couple of weeks, we've started to rebound the ball better. Justin's rebounding has really come to the forefront, and that's been a huge difference for us."
Strong defense proved to be key in a first half where the Wildcats shot just 35 percent from the field. Even with the shooting difficulties, Wooldridge said he was pleased with the offensive effort. "Offensively, I thought we were very good," Wooldridge said. "We got it where we wanted to get it." Wooldridge said he was very pleased with the scoring efforts of his team on the inside. "We won the game in the paint," Wooldridge said, "and because of that, we were able to win the game."
The Wildcats blew the game open with a 25-5 run in the second half. Sophomore guard Lance Harris said the key to the run was the inside play of Massey. "We started concentrating on getting the ball to Jeremiah," Harris said. "We needed to get him a lot of touches. I got a lot of lay-ups and would get fouled and sent to the free throw line." Harris would be an intricate part in getting the crowd involved during the run, throwing down a Sportscenter-worthy dunk after an alley-oop pass from freshman guard Clent Stewart.
After being honored in a pregame ceremony, Massey and Williams put together stellar performances that assured that they received their due respect. The two forwards were acknowledged throughout the game, with the crowd chanting "Jus-tin Will-iams" after the senior dove on the floor, and "Mas-sey" after he scored near the end of the game. The seniors acknowledged the crowd support they received. "When I heard the students saying my name," Williams said, "it got me feeling good on the inside."
"It felt great to have the crowd behind you like that for your last game," Massey said.
On a day to honor seniors, Coach Jim Wooldridge also received his fair share support from the fans in attendance. In light of recent speculation regarding his job security, K-State fans showed their support for the coach before the game. K-State students showed up with signs voicing their respect for the coach.
Of particular note were signs that read, "Jim Wooldridge 4 President," and "Wooly's our man or I'm not a fan." The students voiced their regard for the coach verbally, as well, breaking into a "Wool-y" chant directly following The Star Spangled Banner. Following the game, as fans voiced their approval for the coach, Wooldridge made his way over to the student section and shook hands with a long line of fans.
Wildcat players also voiced their support for the coach following the game. "Everyone's behind Coach Wooldridge," Lance Harris said. "I believe in him 100-percent, and I can honestly say that everybody else does."
"Coach Wooldridge is a great coach," Massey said. "He tells us what we need to do to win the games."
When asked about the Wildcats' chances at the postseason, following the convincing victory over Nebraska, Wooldridge wasn't quick to commit to anything. "It's not about the past, it's not about the future," Wooldridge said, "It's about today… It's all about today. We won the game today. I think our team has played better down the stretch. I think this team has grown a little bit more, and is better down the stretch… If post-season play is about 16 wins and playing better, and being an attractive young team, let's hope that factors in as we go into next week."
The Wildcats now head into Big 12 Tournament play. Their seeding depends on the outcome of the Kansas-Missouri match-up on Sunday, but it's possible that K-State's opening game could be another contest against the Cornhuskers. No matter whom they play, Wooldridge said he expected good fan support at Kemper Arena. "The tournament being in Kansas City, it's close enough that we should have some great support."