Austin Peay basketball coach Matt Figger has a fascinating story to tell about his years working as an assistant at Kansas State.
The story centers on a mistake the coaching staff made in practice the day before K-State played Butler in the Elite Eight back in 2010. The Wildcats were coming off an exhausting double-overtime victory over Xavier, and K-State’s coaches (Frank Martin, Dalonte Hill, Brad Underwood and Figger) agreed the team needed rest. So they decided to take things easy on players between games.
What seemed wise at the time is now viewed as a poor decision.
“Against our better judgment, we didn’t go the way we normally went the day before a game and it showed when we played Butler,” Figger said this week in a phone interview. “Those kids were super tired. That day we decided to take it easy on Jacob (Pullen) and Denis (Clemente), because they logged 40-plus minutes in the game before … And it got them out of sync.”
K-State beat Xavier 101-96 in the Sweet 16 and lost to Butler two days later 63-56.
Figger was able to learn from that practice mistake last season while coaching under Martin at South Carolina. After the Gamecocks surprisingly beat Baylor in the Sweet 16, they went all out the following day while preparing for Florida in the Elite Eight.
They won and reached the Final Four.
“Fast forward seven years later and we got to correct our mistake,” Figger said. “We beat Baylor in the Sweet 16 and the next day we got after it for an hour and a half. We kept our kids very sharp. That is something we didn’t do in 2010. That is something we learned from that game. We don’t have to go long, we just have to keep our kids sharp.
“That is probably the biggest thing we learned from that deal. That’s who we are. Anytime we have ever taken a step back and tried to rest it’s not our routine. We practice harder than any team in the country. I don’t care what anybody says. Our games are usually easier than practices.
“When you get out of routine the kids play out of routine, and we played out of routine against Butler.”
The opposite occurred when South Carolina beat Florida.
“We had a chance to go back and do something over,” Figger said, “and we were successful from that past learning experience.”
Helping South Carolina reach the Final Four paid big dividends for Figger. Five years after leaving K-State, he is getting his first shot at a head coaching gig with Austin Peay.
He calls it a dream come true. Austin Peay has good basketball history for a mid-major and Figger says his goals are conference championships and NCAA Tournament wins.
Adding Dalonte Hill to his staff strengthens his connection back to K-State. Not that he needed a reminder after hearing from so many K-State fans during South Carolina’s march to the Final Four.
“That was great,” Figger said. “I saw Aggieville on the days of the Elite Eight and the Final Four and it looked like Gamecock central. (K-State fans) were big supporters of our run.”
He hopes they will root for Austin Peay, too.
“Everything about my experience at K-State was awesome,” Figger said. “Having those fans that followed our success at South Carolina, all their well wishes and everything else, was really a neat feeling.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett