Shane Southwell held up three fingers on each hand and bobbed his head as the crowd roared on Saturday at Bramlage Coliseum.
The junior guard had just made his sixth and final three-pointer and Kansas State was putting the finishing touches on an 81-61 victory over Baylor. He was excited, and so was everyone not wearing green. They had reason to be.
This was one of the No. 10 Wildcats’ largest and most impressive victories, keeping its share of first place of the Big 12 intact. It was definitely their most balanced effort. Angel Rodriguez had 22 points and 10 assists, Southwell had 18 points, Rodney McGruder added 10 points and Jordan Henriquez delivered his first double-double.
“We got some inside touches, we got some threes and even some second-chance points,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “We controlled the boards and we made them turn the ball the over. … There was a lot of good team play from a lot of people.”
That all-around effort allowed K-State to take a 38-29 halftime lead and pull away after the first few moments of the second half. Baylor made a brief run and cut a 43-29 deficit to two with 12:51 remaining by holding K-State scoreless for close to six minutes, but the Bears (16-9, 7-5 Big 12) didn’t have an answer for the Wildcats’ (20-5, 9-3) final push.
K-State answered with a 16-4 run of its own and maintained a double-digit lead. It has struggled to show a killer instinct at times, but that wasn’t the case here.
“The first thing we said was, ‘They punched us. Now we’ve got to punch them back,’” Rodriguez said. “We responded as a team. We started getting shots off and making positive plays. That got us going. It’s hard when you punch somebody and then they punch you back it brings you down. We brought them down, and they weren’t able to make another run on us.”
That took considerable pressure off McGruder, the team’s leading scorer, and other starters as they rest up for their next game against West Virginia on Monday at home. Instead of working the ball looking for ideal shots, shots early into possessions were going in and big men were grabbing rebounds when they missed.
K-State hit 11 of 25 three-pointers, grabbed 16 offensive rebounds and pressured Baylor into committing a season-high 19 turnovers.
Bears point guard Pierre Jackson, who entered the game leading the Big 12 in both scoring and assists, was particularly ineffective. Though he finished with nine assists and seven points, he lost five turnovers and missed six shots.
Rodriguez outplayed him.
“Angel was phenomenal. He looked like an All-American out there,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “Pierre is as good a guard as you will find in college basketball and I thought Angel really controlled the tempo. To have 22 points, 10 assists and two turnovers, I mean, that’s amazing.”
Drew was also impressed by Henriquez. Though no one would have blamed him had he said he was surprised by K-State’s senior forward.
Henriquez has been trapped in a season-long slump. Before Saturday, he hadn’t scored more than nine points. But he did a little bit of everything against Baylor — 10 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks.
He was at his best during a quick exchange in the second half when he threw down an alley-oop dunk on one end and followed it up with a block on the other. And the crowd rose to its feet when he left the game for a breather.
For a brief moment, he looked like the intimidating big man that finished his junior season.
“I just came in and did what I could do to help my team win,” Henriquez said. “It means a lot. It’s my first double-double of the season. I just want to build on that.”
Is one strong game enough to get him out of his slump?
“I hope and pray,” Weber said. “It would be nice.”
For now, K-State will have to be content that it maintained its first-place tie with Oklahoma State and Kansas in the Big 12 standings.
Coming off a blowout loss to the Jayhawks earlier in the week, keeping pace in the conference race and regaining confidence was crucial.
“It’s a real big confidence boost,” Southwell said. “We just didn’t want to do what we did when we first lost to Kansas and then lost to Iowa State, that game where we let down emotionally. We weren’t energized the way we usually are. Today, we were energized from the start … We just wanted to step up and play well.”