MANHATTAN — Kansas State’s offensive strategy was obvious Tuesday at Bramlage Coliseum.
The Wildcats were either going to win making three-pointers or lose missing them.
After attempting a season-high 30 shots from beyond the arc, and making nine, they had to deal with the reality of the latter.
No. 3 Kansas defeated No. 11 K-State 59-55 in a Sunflower Showdown that lived up to the pregame hype, but things might have been different for the Wildcats had they been able to make a few more outside shots or work the ball inside more effectively.
“We relied, obviously, on the three-ball. Thirty of them,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “But that’s something that they give you. That’s why Iowa State had a chance to beat them at their place. You just have to hit the open ones, then you would make them defend you a little different. We didn’t do that. Somewhere along the line we have got to get some more inside looks, we’ve got to get some penetration to the basket.”
Thing is, the Wildcats found success when they challenged the Jayhawks’ front line. Sophomore point guard Angel Rodriguez, who gives up more than a foot to KU center Jeff Withey, made a high-arcing shot in the lane over him in the first half. A few moments later, he drove the lane again and forced Withey to commit a foul.
In the second half, Thomas Gipson scored an and-one layup against Withey, who finished without a block and three fouls.
“We should have went inside,” Rodriguez said.
Weber didn’t argue. Though he often reminds his players that “closer isn’t better” and challenges them to take advantage of open shots no matter where they are on the floor, he questioned his strategy after his introduction to the in-state rivalry.
“Withey makes a big difference in there,” Weber said. “He didn’t have a block, but maybe that’s because we didn’t go in there.”
The Wildcats spent much more time on the perimeter, content to live and die from three.
Junior guard Shane Southwell took advantage. He made 5 of 11 three-pointers and led all scorers with 19 points. It was, perhaps, his best game in a K-State uniform. But offense didn’t come easy to his teammates. KU guard Travis Releford held Rodney McGruder to two points in the first half and 13 overall. He went 3 for 9 from three-point range. Angel Rodriguez had 12 points and eight assists, but most of his production came in the first half.
Still, he was more successful than most. Thomas Gipson managed five points while battling foul trouble, Jordan Henriquez contributed four points and Will Spradling was held scoreless on five shots, all three-point attempts.
“It would have been nice if Will could have made a couple shots for us,” Weber said.
When things didn’t go well K-State kept deferring to the outside, hoping a hot shooting streak would win them the game.
The strategy ended up playing into the Jayhawks’ hands.
“Our gameplan every game is to not let a team get in the paint,” Releford said. “I think we did a good job of that and that is what forced them to shoot a lot of threes.”