MANHATTAN Kansas State opened its basketball season with a 72-67 victory over Charleston Southern on Friday night, but the way the Wildcats got there was the disappointing thing.
Despite rallying from a 49-35 halftime deficit and sending the Buccaneers, of the Big South, into Sunday's game at Wichita State with a loss, K-State has plenty to work on.
The Cats will have plenty of motivation. The eerie silence, and fear, that filled Bramlage Coliseum for long portions should be enough to inspire everyone.
Another performance like this could easily lead to a loss.
"We've got to use this as a learning situation," K-State coach Frank Martin said."... We dodged a bullet here. Somehow, some way, we figured out a way to win a tough game."
The Wildcats escaped defeat thanks to big second-half efforts from several players. Rodney McGruder did the most, leading K-State with 18 points and 11 rebounds while making important shots down the stretch. Will Spradling added 15 and Jordan Henriquez and Shane Southwell both chipped in 11.
K-State needed all those contributions after a sluggish first half.
Charleston Southern foul trouble lead to an early eight-point K-State lead, but the Cats were outplayed the rest of the half.
Behind Jeremy Sexton, who led all scorers with 19 points, the Buccaneers increased the tempo and went on a 19-2 run. K-State had no answer and trailed by 14 at the break.
Martin took McGruder and Spradling out during much of that time, and described their first-half play as "awful." It showed. The Wildcats looked out of sync on offense, slow on defense. Charleston Southern scored many of its points in transition.
"That's the tempo we want to play at," Sexton said. "We got a lot of open shots."
But K-State was more energetic in the second half with McGruder and Spradling playing alongside Henriquez, Southwell and Martavious Irving. They used a 12-0 run to pull within 52-49 with 13:17 remaining.
The Wildcats held Charleston Southern without a basket in the second half until 5:50 remained.
"We knew what we had to do," Spradling said. "We had to get out and defend. If we're not doing well on offense, it starts with defense and... that's what got us back in the game."
K-State took its first lead of the second half with 3:50 to go on a McGruder free throw that put it ahead 61-60. Saah Nimley scored at the other end, but Spradling put the Wildcats ahead for good on the next possession with a three. They ended the game on a 14-7 run.
McGruder said poor practices on Wednesday and Thursday were to blame for Friday's underwhelming effort. Martin thought his experienced players redeemed themselves by leading a comeback.
Perhaps that's the biggest positive to take away from this season opener.
"They didn't need me kicking them in the butt to go play better or harder," Martin said. "They've got pride. They went out and did it themselves.... These guys saved us from a difficult loss."