MANHATTAN — As strange as it might sound, the small crowds that show up for Texas Tech basketball games at United Spirit Arena can be difficult to prepare for.
“There is no energy in the gym. You really have to bring your own,” junior Kansas State guard Will Spradling said. “You are used to playing in front of a loud stadium pretty much every night in the Big 12 and sometimes it can be pretty quiet in there. It’s not something you really think about, but it is something your team needs to know.”
Consider Martavious Irving the man in charge of explaining the situation to everyone on the Wildcats’ roster who hasn’t visited Lubbock, Texas before K-State takes the court for a 7 p.m. game against the Red Raiders on Tuesday.
Shortly after No. 13 K-State took over second place in the Big 12 standings with a victory at Oklahoma on Saturday, Irving began talking about the importance of taking care of business in the next road game. Even if it is played in front of rows of empty red seats instead of a raucous student section jumping up and down and chanting in unison at tip-off.
“At the end of the day,” Irving said, “even though there aren’t that many fans, they are all against us.”
Irving, a senior guard, has won both his previous trips to Texas Tech, and thinks he knows what it takes to be successful in the cavernous 15,098-seat venue. It starts with taking the game seriously. Even though the Red Raiders have struggled since former coach Bob Knight retired, and are off to a 2-6 start in conference play under interim coach Chris Walker, they can’t be overlooked. Do that, and they become dangerous. Example: Last month, Texas Tech beat Iowa State, which turned around and beat K-State a few days later.
The Cyclones looked lethargic when they lost to the Red Raiders. They never built a big lead in the first half, fell behind in the second half and panicked down the stretch.
In order for the Wildcats to avoid the same fate, they will need to play with a purpose from the get-go.
Now that he has developed into the team’s sixth man, Irving will be ready to give an instant boost off the bench if that is not the case. The consistent energy he brings to the floor, along with strong on-ball defending and the occasional three-pointer, make him as important as a starter.
“He’s had a real nice run, and when the seniors have played well we have won,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “He hasn’t worried about starting. He has just really taken pride in coming off the bench. I know he doesn’t probably have the numbers that some of the sixth men have, but he has definitely been a major asset to us.”
Irving has helped most on defense, pressuring opposing guards into turnovers and forcing teams to work while they bring the ball up in the backcourt. He is one of the team’s top defenders.
“I like to be one of the guys who pressure the ball full court,” Irving said. “I don’t like to have no letup defending.”
But his 4.4 points and 2.5 assists per game have also provided a lift. Against Oklahoma, he came through with 10 points in a low-scoring affair.
“He brings us energy off the bench, but he’s a scorer, too,” Spradling said. “It’s not like he comes in and can only play one side of the ball. He can do it all.”
Coming into his senior season, Irving saw himself as a starter. So he was naturally disappointed when Weber asked him to come off the bench. But those emotions disappeared when Weber said he still viewed him as a member of K-State’s starting lineup.
Weber prominently uses eight players, and he considers them all starters.
Irving doesn’t care how he is labeled. Regardless of his role or the arena, his main interest is helping K-State win.
“You can’t get too caught up in starting. Mentally that will mess you up,” Irving said. “You just have to be ready to play whenever. Things happen … when you have eight starters, that’s three extra people who can start for you any time or come off the bench and bring a starter’s energy.”