KANSAS CITY, Mo. – In order for the Kansas State basketball team to beat Alabama on Saturday at the Sprint Center, it was going to have to do something it had not done all season: Generate offense against a strong defense.
Though it wasn’t pretty at times, the Wildcats managed just enough points to edge the No. 23 Crimson Tide 71-58. That was all they needed to pick up their biggest victory of the season, a signature nonconference win that could look awfully good come March.
Now they can head to Hawaii for next week’s Diamond Head Classic with momentum, hoping to add a tournament title to their resume before Big 12 play begins. If they continue to play as well as they in the second half against Alabama, that is certainly a possibility.
K-State (7-1) hit the Crimson Tide and their 11th-ranked defense with 45 points after intermission, enabling it to overcome a dreadful shooting start. It missed all but two of its first 18 attempts from the field and trailed 13-6 midway through the first half, but outplayed Alabama from there. The Wildcats took a 26-24 halftime lead and pulled away from Alabama (8-3) from then on.
Behind Jamar Samuels, Jordan Henriquez, Angel Rodriguez and Will Spradling, the Wildcats took a 53-41 lead midway through the second half, and went from playing some of their worst basketball to perhaps their best.
“They got the hustle plays in the second half,” said Alabama guard Trevor Releford. “They shot the ball a little better and they got the victory.”
After trading baskets for the first five minutes of the second half, K-State went on a 19-6 run to take control of the game.
Here is how it happened: Samuels got it started with two free throws and a three from the corner, Rodriguez and Southwell kept it going by making a few driving layups and the 16,685 in attendance began to sense victory when Spradling sank a three to put K-State ahead by 12 with less than 10 minutes remaining.
The Wildcats looked good on both ends of the floor, and went on to lead by as many 16. K-State coach Frank Martin is as demanding as they come, but he took pride in his team’s effort after this one.
As he has liked to say recently, K-State is “one defensive stop away from being undefeated.”
“When you can say that and you have a win at Virginia Tech,” Martin said. “ We might not be perfect, but we’re not taking a backseat to anyone either.”
It stayed in the game early by matching Alabama’s energy on defense, and was too much for the Crimson Tide once it found its offensive rhythm. To play so well after starting so badly against a ranked team will be viewed as an accomplishment, especially when you consider Alabama’s track record.
Coming into Saturday’s game, the Crimson Tide had one of the best defensive resumes in the country. They had allowed only three teams – now four -- to score more than 60 points against them, and held three others to less than 50 points. On average, Alabama was allowing 55.3 points per game.
For a while, it looked like those numbers might hold. Nick Jacobs was the best big man in the game early on, but after scoring four points and grabbing three rebounds before the first media timeout he was unable to do much of anything, and Alabama threw down several uncontested dunks.
But Jacobs didn’t do much of anything from then on, and Jordan Henriquez and Angel Rodriguez came off the bench to lead a K-State rally. The two backups gave K-State a big lift when it needed them most in the first half. Rodriguez spread the ball around well for six assists by halftime, and Henriquez led all scorers at the break with eight.
“They were in tune with what we were trying to do as a team,” Martin said. “ They were consistent. It wasn’t one good play, one bad play. They were consistent. Whether they made a positive play or not, they were ready to go make the next play.”
Their intensity and aggressiveness changed the pace of the game.
“They did a great job attacking our pressure,” Alabama coach Anthony Grant said.
Henriquez ended the night as the game’s leading scorer with 17 points, while also snaring eight rebounds. Rodriguez finished with 13 points and seven assists.
Samuels came alive in the second half and finished with 14 points, and Spradling hit some big shots on his way to eight points and five assists.
It didn’t look like any of them would end the game with memorable stat lines. When it was over, they combined for one of the Wildcats’ most memorable performances of the season.
“Once we came together,” Henriquez said, “we were willing to do the things that coach wanted us to do, and we stayed disciplined.”