COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Kansas State long ago proved it can win basketball games without making a lot of shots.
During a 76-70 victory over Texas A&M on Tuesday at Reed Arena, it showed what it can do when three-pointers fall through the net like layups.
Thanks to a sensational shooting effort from three-point range — the Wildcats made 12 of 17, including 8 of 9 in the first half, — they raced to a 44-33 halftime lead and never trailed again in front of 5,461 fans.
“They just went in,” said senior forward Jamar Samuels, who made two threes on his way to 17 points and 11 rebounds. “We weren’t even thinking about it. We were just putting it up. Then I look at the scoreboard and it says 89 percent in the first half. I was like, ‘Oh man, that is unreal.’ So we just kept shooting it.”
Rodney McGruder shot it the most, and it was obvious he was in for a big night right away. He went a perfect 5 for 5 from long range in the first half, with Texas A&M defenders struggling to get a hand in his face.
He rode his hot shooting to a game-high 26 points.
“To see the rim and see it go in it helps any shooter, anybody in the world who plays basketball,” McGruder said. “You see your first two shots go in, it gives you a little confidence. We’ve been working on it. Guys work on shooting the ball all the time. We were fortunate and I was blessed enough to hit a few shots.”
That hasn’t always been the case. The Wildcats entered Tuesday’s game shooting 33 percent from three-point range and lost a close one to Iowa State on Saturday largely because they missed 14 of 17 from deep. Most of the time, they have to rely on rebounding, defense and toughness to win games.
But they found their touch at a good time. They needed strong offensive performances while failing to play up to their usual standards on defense. K-State allowed the Aggies to score more points than they have all month.
Texas A&M pulled as close as 66-63 with just under three minutes remaining, and if not for McGruder making a three-pointer from the corner to give K-State a 69-63 lead or Samuels stepping up and scoring nine straight points a few minutes earlier, things might have turned out differently.
“Jamar made some big-time shots to keep that lead as they were trying to come,” said K-State basketball coach Frank Martin. “And then, he obviously rebounded the ball. He was the one guy we had that got defensive rebounds.”
Samuels, K-State’s lone scholarship senior, responded like a veteran.
“They made their run,” Samuels said. “We had to stop and think ‘We can’t let them get ahead of us.’ As a team, we buckled down.”
That was enough for K-State to beat Texas A&M (13-16, 4-13 Big 12) and improve its chances of landing a favored seed in the NCAA and Big 12 tournaments. K-State (20-9, 9-8) moved above .500 in conference play and will try to finish with a winning league record on Saturday against Oklahoma State at Bramlage Coliseum.
On Tuesday, however, the Wildcats secured their second winning record in league road games in 24 seasons.
And no matter how it happened, that’s something Martin is proud of.
“With a young team and a team that has had its difficult moments,” Martin said. “…If you look even deeper into it and think about the game at Iowa State and the game at Texas, we had double-digit leads in those two. We could very easily have won seven road games in Big 12 play. That’s how close we are.”