Kansas State will face stronger competition than Lamar and play in more meaningful games than the opening round of the NIT Season Tip-off, but its 79-55 victory on Monday at Bramlage Coliseum was still a good example of what the Wildcats are capable of.
On offense, they moved the ball around, weren’t afraid to attack the basket and looked confident shooting the ball. They scored the first 15 points, raced to a 35-9 lead and had former Texas Tech coach Pat Knight searching for answers on the Cardinals’ bench before halftime.
On defense, they challenged ball-handlers most of the way up the court, drew charges and blocked shots. Lamar made 28 percent of their shots in the first half, and K-State senior Jordan Henriquez led all players with six blocks in front of a small crowd.
Put it all together and K-State coach Bruce Weber didn’t have much to complain about.
“It’s pretty obvious we came ready to play,” Weber said. “I thought we were very well prepared defensively. We jumped to the ball. Our pressure hurt them when you shoot the ball well and you guard you are in pretty good shape.”
The victory gives the Wildcats (2-0) the chance to reach the tournament’s final rounds at Madison Square Garden with a victory over Alabama-Huntsville at 9 p.m. Tuesday at Bramlage Coliseum.
In New York, the Wildcats could face Michigan, Virginia or Pittsburgh next week.
“That’s every kid’s dream to play in Madison Square Garden,” said senior forward Rodney McGruder, who scored nine points in 24 minutes. “Growing up when you play basketball you hear about the great things Michael Jordan did there and how well Kobe Bryant and LeBron James played there. We really want to go there and play.”
The Wildcats will get their wish if they can avoid the few negatives that came up Monday came in the second half once K-State started to let up and Weber began using players from the end of the bench.
Starters Will Spradling, Nino Williams and McGruder all exited the game for lengthy periods, making it difficult for the Wildcats to score. Lamar outscored K-State in the second half 40-36 and pulled to within 65-45 with 7:51 remaining, but sophomore guard Angel Rodriguez made sure K-State won by a wide margin by knocking down two three-pointers and scoring eight quick points.
He finished with a game-high 19 points and four assists.
Knight was proud of the way his team stayed competitive, but he knew Lamar faced an uphill battle from his previous trips to Manhattan when he was coaching at Texas Tech.
“I couldn’t tell a difference,” Knight said. “They got after us defensively and offensively They’ve got the makings of a great team. They are going to be good.”
Spradling also played a nice game for the Wildcats. The junior guard made four three-pointers on his way to 14 points and seemed confident on both ends, grabbing three steals.
Both players were proud that K-State dished out 20 assists compared to 10 turnovers, while Lamar had 26 turnovers compared to 13 assists.
Stats like that will almost always produce victory, regardless of the opponent.
“That’s what we do,” Rodriguez said. “We pressure the ball, we get after people, we wear them down and then we capitalize on turnovers. That’s what we did tonight.”