When Kansas State needed baskets on Tuesday, it came from some unusual suspects.
Against Texas Tech, the Wildcats’ three leading scorers for the season combined for 13 points, and K-State needed everything it could get to beat the Red Raiders, 66-58, in Bramlage Coliseum.
(Kansas State freshman Wesley Iwundu goes in for a dunk attempt against Texas Tech on Tuesday night. Iwundu had 11 points).
It all came together for the Wildcats (15-6, 5-3 Big 12) when the Red Raiders narrowed their 12-point halftime lead all the way down to one with 7:10 to play.
Wesley Iwundu made a pair of free throws, Will Spradling scored on a reverse layup, and then Shane Southwell scored his only field goal of the night to push the lead back out to 54-47.
After Texas Tech (10-11, 2-6) guard Dusty Hannahs cut it back to a four-point lead with a 3-pointer at the 4:27 mark, the Wildcats got six points from Spradling in a 12-8 scoring advantage the rest of the way.
K-State coach Bruce Weber said Spradling’s layup came when they needed a spark.
“In gut-check time, Will made an unbelievable layup,” he said. “And we also got enough stops when we needed to.”
Spradling finished with a game and season-high 17 points, while Nino Williams came off the bench to score 13 and Iwundu had 11.
Season leading scorer Marcus Foster scored two points, Southwell had four and Thomas Gipson had seven points and five rebounds and fouled out in 11 minutes.
So it was guys like Williams, Jevon Thomas, Omari Lawrence and DJ Johnson who put up some of the big minutes in the game, and they all came through at different times.
Weber said the bench, which scored 25 points, saved the day.
“They absolutely did, I don’t think that without a doubt,” he said. “Thomas (Gipson) was 2 for 4, Shane was 1 for 7 and Marcus was 1 for 8. So 4 for 19 are not great numbers, and that was our three leading scorers. The second group, the subs, D.J. Johnson, Nino Williams and Jevon came in and added some much-needed pressure.
“Obviously the thing with that group, they had the energy. We told guys if they weren’t going to play hard we were going to play other people. If that group keeps playing hard and making plays, then they are going to keep playing.”
All the trouble seemed avoidable though, especially early in the game. After the Red Raiders took a 7-5 lead in the first five minutes of action, K-State opened up a 18-4 scoring run with seven points from Williams and a defensive effort that held Texas Tech scoreless for more than seven minutes.
The Wildcats’ 12-point lead didn’t last though, as the Red Raiders came back and cut it to seven points with two quick baskets. K-State used a 9-2 run to get the lead back out by as much as 14 points before Hannahs made a shot before the buzzer to cut it back to 12.
The Wildcats got the lead out to 14 with a dunk from Iwundu to open the second half, but the Red Raiders turned in a 9-1 run to pull within six points of the lead.
At that point, Weber pulled four of his five starters, leaving only Spradling on the floor with players from the bench. He said it felt needed with the way the others were playing.
“We had no energy,” he said. “They didn’t get back on defense. They gave up easy layups. You’ve got to run back, we can’t let our offense dictate what our defense does. It has to be our foundation. I think some of our guys had their hands hanging instead of playing. Go make the next play.”
The Red Raiders then cut it to four with a 5-0 run from Jaye Crockett. Crockett made a 3-pointer with 7:10 left to cut the score to a 48-47 K-State lead.
Weber said it felt like they were providing the momentum for the Red Raiders to climb back in the game.
“We keep giving up baskets in key momentum situations,” he said. “We missed four layups to start the second half, and then they pushed it at us and got some baskets. They started to feel good and the game changes.”
Spradling said once the momentum got going for Texas Tech, it’s second-half adjustments started paying off quickly. And it took some time for K-State to make its own adjustment against it.
“They started to run a lot more pick-and-rolls, we got stuck with a lot more guards on bigs that caused a little bit of a rebounding problem,” he said. “That caused them to get more tip ins. At the end of the game, we really clamped down on team rebounding and that was big.”
The Wildcats did improve defensively from its past two games, especially in the second half, where they’d been plagued by mistakes. And when the Wildcats needed offensive execution at the end of the game, they were able to make plays.
The Wildcats lost the rebounding battled 34-32, and allowed Crockett to score 15 and Hannahs to finish with 14. But K-State held Red Raiders’ forward Jordan Tolbert, one of their top two scores, to no points.
And Texas Tech coach Tubby Smith said they had no answer for K-State’s bench and Spradling.
“They scored 25 points, I thought that they were very impressive,” he said. “I thought Lawrence and Williams did a very good job. We knew they had a deep bench, and they utilized it very effectively.”
In his first game against the Wildcats in his career, and his first trip inside Bramlage, Smith said he was also impressed by what he saw.
“This was the first time that I’ve had a chance to coach at Kansas State,” he said. “They have a great crowd and a great atmosphere. They certainly made the plays down the stretch to get the win. I thought our guys showed a gallant effort tonight and it just was not enough.”
The Wildcats will now go back on the road, in search of a road win that has eluded them in their last three trips away from Manhattan. K-State is scheduled to play at West Virginia on Saturday at 12:30 p.m.