The stunned silence in Kansas State’s locker room after Friday’s 63-61 loss to La Salle in the second round of the NCAA Tournament seemed to spread outward from Angel Rodriguez, past the lush trappings of the Sprint Center, past the rows of cameras and microphones pointed toward the diminutive point guard, past the court where the Wildcats’ dreams had come to a crashing end – perhaps, even, all the way back to Manhattan.
Rodriguez kept his head dipped for several seconds, his only barrier from what was going on around him.
Finally, he was ready.
He steeled his back against a folding chair, lifted his chin and began to answer questions about arguably his worst game in a K-State uniform – two points on 0-for-6 shooting, three turnovers and four assists in 36 minutes that were defined by the masterful play of the La Salle’s guards in the first half and K-State’s inability to contain them.
“That wasn’t us,” Rodriguez said of the first half. “They were scoring pretty much every possession and we weren’t scoring at the beginning of the game. We took quick shots, bad shots and they were capitalizing off of it.
“The second half we started being ourselves. It was almost like they couldn’t score at all.”
To add insult to injury, it was Rodriguez who had the ball in his hands on K-State’s final possession, dribbling past the Wildcats’ bench and toward the baseline, throwing up a wild floater that missed as the buzzer sounded.
Rodriguez, a 5-foot-11 sophomore, entered the game averaging 12.3 points and 6.2 assists. Friday’s loss also broke a streak of 13 consecutive games in double-digit scoring for Rodriguez, dating back to a Feb. 2 win over Oklahoma. It was his lowest point total since a Dec. 2 win over South Carolina-Upstate.
“I was just trying to see the open spot or the open guy, but they switched everything and played pretty good D on our last possession,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve got to give (La Salle) credit, too.
“I couldn’t see anything. If I would have seen something, we would have gotten something, but we couldn’t get anything and I had to shoot a crazy shot. I was just hoping that I had some luck and it went in. Coach (Bruce Weber) was trying to call a timeout, but I guess the refs didn’t hear him.”
But it wasn’t just the last possession where Rodriguez was off. He seemed hesitant instead of attacking on offense, throwing the ball away during the Wildcats’ huge second-half comeback. He seemed hesitant at other times in K-State’s half-court sets and in the open floor, ditching his trademark, attacking style and either pulling the ball back out or quickly dumping it off to a teammate.
“We wanted to come out and attack, man-to-man all the way and put the pressure on them,” La Salle guard Tyrone Garland said. “Our guards started off shooting the ball well, but when we weren’t, in the second half, we still wanted to keep the pressure on.”
Rodriguez also had four fouls – two in the last stretch that came at inopportune times and both led to points for the Explorers. Both times the fouls came while reaching in to help on La Salle big man Jerrell Wright when it wasn’t needed. Wright hit 4 of 4 free throws in the stretch, both times tying the score.
“They jammed Angel a little bit and he wasn’t patient enough on a couple plays,” Weber said. “He had some bad fouls, too.”
Weber said after the game that Rodriguez, perhaps, wasn’t as sharp because he’d been severely limited in practice for the last month after tearing ligaments in his left, non-shooting wrist.
“He hasn’t been able to practice with us 100 percent,” Weber said.
Now, Rodriguez will have surgery Monday and head into an offseason learning to play without All-Big 12 senior guard Rodney McGruder alongside.
“If we lose, I’m going to include myself in taking the blame because we’re a team, we’re not individuals,” Rodriguez said. “Whatever happened to us, it happened to all of us. Not just one person.”