TUCSON — Kansas State freshman guard Shane Southwell didn't want to do anything different before his first NCAA Tournament game on Thursday against Utah State.
He listened to the same music he always does, Jay-Z, and he thought about the same thing he always does, playing hard for the Wildcats' two seniors, Curtis Kelly and Jacob Pullen.
And then he changed things up a bit.
"I didn't want to see Jacob Pullen crying in the locker room after the game, I didn't want to see Curtis Kelly crying because they'd just lost and their careers were over," Southwell said. "It was a different atmosphere, sure, but I tried to keep my thoughts, my approach, as routine as possible."
Southwell scored a career-high 10 points in K-State's 73-68 victory, hit 6 of 6 free throws and dished out three assists. And when K-State post players Jordan Henriquez-Roberts, Curtis Kelly and Jamar Samuels all got in foul trouble in the second half, the 6-foot-6 native of Harlem, N.Y., guarded Utah State big men.
"I was on him, his teammates were on him this week and he responded," K-State coach Frank Martin said. "He was good tonight. I'm proud."
His teammates knew Southwell was capable.
"Shane has always had that in him, has always been capable of what he did tonight," K-State guard Martavious Irving said. "He's got the ability to make an impact on a game in a lot of different ways. We've all seen it in practice and tonight everybody else saw it, too."
Southwell hit two jumpers in the first five minutes of the game that he said calmed any nerves he might have had. He scored eight points in the first half.
"I get those two buckets early and I relaxed and it seemed like I wasn't really thinking about scoring anymore," Southwell said. "My mind just went to rebounding and playing defense."
Southwell's offensive contributions didn't stop at halftime. With just over seven minutes to play and Utah State threatening, he found Kelly, a fellow Rice (N.Y.) High School alum, for an alley-oop dunk that made the score 49-36, a lead the Wildcats found they desperately needed when the Aggies got within six points less than four minutes later.
"I saw the backside open up when their guard followed (Pullen) out at the wing," Southwell said. "Curtis was in the high post, he saw it, too, we made eye contact and I hit him with the oop. We do it in practice all the time. The Rice Connection."
With Saturday's stakes even higher — a game against Wisconsin with a trip to New Orleans and the Sweet 16 on the line — Thursday's breakout performance could pay dividends quickly.
"I know it says he's 6-6, but I think he's grown an inch, I think he's 6-7 now," Irving said. "You take that talent and a seven-foot wingspan and the sky's the limit."