PITTSBURGH — Kansas State guard Martavious Irving remembers the last games for departing seniors.
Wildcat center Jordan Henriquez cherishes the extra time with his teammates.
Sophomore guard Shane Southwell recalls an alley-oop he threw to Curtis Kelly in a win over Utah State.
For this core group of Wildcats, all they’ve ever known is trips to the NCAA Tournament – today’s game against Southern Mississippi representing their fourth in five years and third straight under coach Frank Martin.
It’s the most consecutive trips to the NCAAs since the Wildcats went four straight times from 1987 to 1990.
“It’s a great feeling to have your team’s name called, and this is where our program always wants to be,” Henriquez said. “You get to stick with your guys a little longer and compete. No team wants to go home at this point.”
Senior Jamar Samuels is the only one who has been around for all four trips — he redshirted in 2008. Senior Victor Ojeleye and juniors Irving, Henriquez and Rodney McGruder are making their third trip. Southwell and fellow sophomore Will Spradling are back for a second straight year.
Two years ago in Salt Lake City, the Wildcats played in one of the most memorable games in school history, a 101-96 double-overtime win over Xavier in the Sweet 16. Last year, Jacob Pullen scored 38 points in his final game, a 70-65 loss to Wisconsin in the third round.
That’s a lot of memorable moments.
“The things I always think about are the seniors,” Irving said. “Last year, it was Jake’s last games with us. Before that, I remember Denis (Clemente) going out like he did.”
Southwell put up his only double-digit scoring performance of his freshman year in a 73-68 win over Utah State at Tucson, scoring 10 points to go with four rebounds and three assists. His play in the second-round win still serves as the highlight of his two seasons with the Wildcats. This season he’s averaging 3.4 points.
“I might need to go back and watch that game tonight,” Southwell said Wednesday, smiling. “Go back and see what I did right so I can do it again.”
Probably the biggest indicator of the Wildcats’ NCAA experience was their reaction to Tuesday’s news of Syracuse 7-foot center Fab Melo being ruled ineligible. Syracuse is the top-seeded team in the East Regional and a potential second-round opponent for K-State.
To a man, the Wildcats wouldn’t even discuss the possibility of playing Syracuse. Henriquez thought the Orange were playing Western Kentucky until Irving corrected him. Syracuse plays North Carolina-Asheville.
“(Martin) hasn’t even mentioned it, nobody has,” Spradling said. “Everybody in our locker room is completely locked in on Southern Mississippi. That’s all we’re thinking about.”