ST. LOUIS — When Kansas State lost at Kansas in January, something changed in Marcus Foster.
After that, the K-State freshman consistently played his best basketball against teams that were among the top 50 RPI in the country.
Whether it was 18 points in a win over Oklahoma, 34 in a win over Texas, 20 in a home win over Kansas or, most recently, 29 and 21 in back-to-back losses to Baylor and Iowa State, Foster has shined when the Wildcats needed him most.
Foster will lead the Wildcats tonight when he makes his NCAA tournament debut against Kentucky at 8:40 on CBS.
Kentucky coach John Calipari said when he watches Foster, who averaged 15.6 points per game, he says a player who plays without fear.
“He’s got the ultimate green light,” Calipari said. “He is not backing up from anybody. You know, I talked to our freshmen from Texas about him and they said we knew who he was. And now he’s kind of been cut loose and you are like, ‘wow.’
“So they’ve got a terrific player and somebody we know. Fun to watch. I’m not sure he is going to be fun to play against, but he is fun to watch.”
K-State coach Bruce Weber said Foster has been consistent for his team, and acknowledged that he does tend to rise up against the best players. Some of that might go back to his path to K-State. In a state populated with players like Julius Randle, and Aaron and Andrew Harrison — all Kentucky freshmen — Foster was lightly recruited in comparison.
He chose K-State over Creighton and has become a near overnight success.
“Marcus had that chip on his shoulder every day, every day in practice and every game he steps out there.” Shane Southwell said. “He knows that he’s probably the overlooked freshman nationally. But obviously he’s really good and his stats showed that he should be one of the well-mentioned freshmen with Randle, (Jabari) Parker, (James) Young and players of that nature.
“But being that he’s from Texas and they have three freshmen Texas players and they were highly recruited and more known than he was, I expect him to be motivated. I know for a fact he will be motivated.”
While he might not have been included with the likes of Randle or the Harrison’s, those players have taken notice as they prepare to play him.
Randle said K-State feeds off of Foster and the freshman has become the team’s leader and key to their success.
“He can make a ton of shots, defend well,” he said. “Overall, you know, they kind of look to him, especially on the offensive end. So I am excited. It will be a great challenge.”