With about six minutes to go Friday against Kentucky, Kansas State guard Will Spradling attempted to drive into the lane against Kentucky’s quickly closing guards. He dribbled off his foot, fell down, and committed a costly turnover during an attempted KSU rally.
That led to probably the best gauge on whether KSU coach Bruce Weber felt Spradling’s presence was an avenue to victory. Weber removed Spradling, a senior guard, almost immediately after to leave KSU without much in the way of a traditional point guard.
Spradling reentered the game a few minutes later for a chance to lead an improbable rally or to soak in the final moments of his career. The latter happened, and they were most likely moments that won’t stay with him in a positive way, as Kentucky won 56-49 to advance to the third round of the NCAA Tournament.
He made a desperation three-pointer to avoid going scoreless for the second time this season, but Spradling finished with three points, three turnovers and four fouls. He was largely unable to match up with Kentucky’s bigger guards, especially when he had the ball, and his chances at rhythm were often busted because of fouls.
“We didn’t get anything accomplished,” Spradling said. “We really struggled. Their length bothered us a lot more than what we expected, and we were pretty stagnant.”
KSU didn’t necessarily need Spradling to score much, as it has won seven times this season when he scored five points or fewer, but it needed Spradling to be more involved as a distributor and as a disrupter.
The distribution efforts led to two assists; as a defensive force Spradling was more noticeable as he helped hold Kentucky guards James Young, Aaron Harrison and Andrew Harrison to 10 of 29 shooting, even though Andrew Harrison’s shooting helped Kentucky create an early cushion.
Kentucky, though, found a way to cancel out those less-than-stellar numbers.
“They played defense,” Spradling said. “That had to have been one of their best defensive performances, I feel like. They held us to less than 50 points, and that’s something they should be proud of.”
KSU needed a facilitator because the primary player in that role Saturday, Marcus Foster, was more relied upon for his own offense as he finished with 15 points on 7 of 18 shooting. Shane Southwell saw minutes at point guard, but he also flourished offensively with 11 points and three of KSU’s five three-pointers.
KSU hung close throughout most of the second half, keeping UK’s lead in a manageable range of six to eight points most of the way. A game-turning play was imperative for KSU, and it seemed often to be presenting itself to Spradling.
And Spradling, it seemed, wanted such an opportunity. He didn’t shoot much after missing a pair of early three-pointers, but he showed flashes of aggressiveness and never appeared uncomfortable facing daunting mismatches in the backcourt.
“It was tough when I got into foul trouble, it kind of took me out of the flow of the game,” Spradling said. “It’s hard to be coming in and out like that. It’s something that I kind of struggled with that is foul trouble.
“But when you’re a senior you obviously want to make that last game. Or what could be your last game.”
Like his teammates, though, the big play never came for Spradling. He was looking to make something happen when he drove into traffic, but that proved to be an ill-fated and misguided decision that got him benched and delayed K-State’s bid for a game-changing play.
Or delayed, anyway, the inevitability that one wasn’t coming from Spradling or anyone else.
“We couldn’t really get into a flow on offense,” Spradling said. “We were doing a good job defensively, other than when they got out on transition. When we got them in the halfcourt offense, we really did a great job. But when we got on offense, we were really stagnant and their length really bothered us.”