MANHATTAN — Jamar Samuels wanted his senior-day ceremony to be perfect.
He wanted his mother, aunt and two brothers to walk with him to midcourt. To experience a loud ovation. To help him show Kansas State fans his appreciation.
The anticipation kept him from sleeping Friday night. Samuels, a part of five 20-win seasons, saw it as one of life’s most significant moments.
Then he learned, 15 minutes before tipoff, that flight delays were keeping his family from arriving to K-State’s 77-58 victory over Oklahoma State on Saturday until halftime.
“It was one of those moments,” Samuels said later, shaking his head.
Such bad news would have derailed him in the past. But there is a reason why he said last week that, for the first time, he considers himself a man. He thinks he has matured since coming to K-State five years ago.
He stayed focused and had 17 points and 12 rebounds.
“From where he was at a year ago to where he is right now — let’s not even talk about his freshman year — it’s night and day,” K-State coach Frank Martin said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been as proud of somebody for the maturity and growth that he has shown in the last year.”
Samuels’ mother, Ernestine, hugged her son as he walked off the court. She said she fought back tears all afternoon.
“He has matured so much,” she said. “He’s still playful, but I think K-State is comforting to him, because it used to be so hard for him to be away from home. He looks at them as his second family. He didn’t know I was going to be late. I didn’t tell him. I was very nervous and cried a couple of times on the way here. I didn’t want to miss it. He handled it much better than I did.”
Behind his lead, the Wildcats handled things pretty well, too.
K-State answered a Keiton Page three-pointer at the beginning of the second half with 14 straight points to take a 54-36 lead.
The Wildcats have been known to ease up in that situation. Baylor, Iowa State and Texas all rallied to beat K-State in the final moments. The Cyclones and Longhorns rallied from double-digit deficits in the second half.
But the Wildcats apparently learned from those mistakes. After pulling ahead by 18, they stretched their lead to 22.
“Kansas State made a statement,” Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said. “And we just did not respond.”
The game was never again close, and Samuels and fellow senior Victor Ojeleye were able to celebrate a drama-free victory.
“They owed it to me and Victor to have a great second half and try to extend the lead,” Samuels said.
Rodney McGruder did most of the work to help the Wildcats pull away. The junior erupted for eight straight points in the second half and scored a game-high 24 points while playing quality defense on Page, who scored 22 after a hot start. Jordan Henriquez had 16 points and two blocks while Will Spradling contributed seven points and seven assists.
“We came out in the second half, we were better on defense and then obviously when you make shots, it helps remedy a lot of things,” Martin said. “We made shots because we moved and cut. We had 21 assists, that means guys, especially in the second half, are moving the ball.”
K-State (21-9, 10-8) finished the regular season two games above .500 in the league standings. It also allows them to head into the Big 12 Tournament with four wins in their last five games.
“It’s a stepping stone for us,” Ojeleye said. “A positive experience thing like this and going out and doing things really well and also seeing things we need to improve on really gives us momentum.”
Looking back, that’s all Samuels ever really wanted. He has no complaints. His senior-day ceremony didn’t go according to plan, but his final home game did.