LUBBOCK, Texas — Following Kansas State’s 69-47 victory over Texas Tech on Wednesday night at United Spirit Arena, Frank Martin viewed his bench players the same way the rest of us look at auto insurance.
He had no idea when, where or why he would need them against the Red Raiders, but when he did, he was awfully glad they were there.
“That’s something that you need as a team,” Martin said. “Your bench can’t be potluck, because then as a coach you don’t know what to do. You don’t know who to put in there and then you lose confidence.”
That didn’t happen here. Not even close. K-State’s reserves outscored Texas Tech’s starters 38-34, and, in a roundabout way, won the game.
When the Wildcat starters took the court in front of mostly empty red seats, but made the mistakes of a team playing in front of a record road crowd, the reserves came on strong and scored 24 points in the first half to give K-State a 31-20 lead at the break.
Not only did K-State’s bench prove it was capable of outplaying Texas Tech on its own, it sent a serious message to starters Angel Rodriguez, Rodney McGruder, Jamar Samuels, Thomas Gipson and Will Spradling.
Play better in the second half or don’t play at all.
They responded. Though sixth man Martavious Irving led K-State (15-4, 4-3 Big 12) with 16 points and four assists, McGruder went on to score 13 points while Rodriguez and Gipson both chipped in eight.
“We didn’t score the way that we needed to, but that happens on the road,” Martin said. “If you depend on outscoring people on the road, it’s going to be hard to win on the road. You have to make sure that you can protect the basket and be solid with your principles and have some toughness.
“On offense, you have to be who you are. The thing I was proudest of tonight was we missed a lot of shots, especially early in the game, but we didn’t settle.”
Texas Tech led 5-2 more than four minutes into the game, and Irving came off the bench to score K-State’s only points. It seemed as though the Wildcats were playing down to both the competition — the Red Raiders (7-12, 0-7) are the only winless team in the Big 12 — and the crowd of only a few thousand was the smallest K-State has seen since playing on a neutral court in Hawaii.
But then Martin inserted freshman Adrian Diaz and he beat the shot clock by making a jumper. Then sub Shane Southwell made an open shot. Then walk-on Victor Ojeleye made back-to-back jumpers.
“Nothing special,” said Ojeleye of what was working during that stretch. “It was just K-State team basketball, taking advantage of opportunities and trusting teammates.”
All the while, they held Texas Tech without a point for more than seven minutes. Everything was working.
“We expected to beat them before the game started,” said Texas Tech’s Jordan Tolbert, who scored 18 points. “But things didn’t go that way.”
They turned bad fast. With the help of Irving, a K-State lineup almost entirely made up of bench players went on an 18-4 run and K-State was ahead for good.
“I just wanted to provide a spark off the bench and do something that was positive,” Irving said. “A lot of things early on weren’t going to well. We were missing a lot of shots. I just wanted to bring a lot of energy.
He did. And with that, the Wildcats won their third straight game. K-State’s bench put it in that position, with an impressive first-half effort that saw Ojeleye score eight and Diaz six.
They didn’t contribute nearly as much in the second half — McGruder came out hot and K-State quickly stretched its lead to 23 points — but they didn’t need to.
That’s the beauty of an insurance policy.