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Cats lose edge with Spradling on bench

By Joel Jellison

STILLWATER, Okla. — Will Spradling’s reaction told the whole story.

With Oklahoma State’s Markel Brown driving to the basket, Spradling tried to step inside and help the defense by defending a jump shot near the rim. Officials blew Spradling for his second foul with 15:10 left in the half and the senior slumped his shoulders before putting his hands on his hips and walking to the bench.

The Wildcats were leading Oklahoma State, on the road, 13-8 when he left the floor, and were outscored 27-14 the rest of the half. K-State went on to lose 77-61.

Without Spradling at point guard and running the Wildcats’ offense, even the senior noticed a difference.

“It gets stagnant,” Spradling said. “We run a motion offense and they were really struggling with guarding it, and me and Marcus (Foster) were moving well in it. When I went out, the only one who was really working it was Marcus, and he was getting worn out by himself.”

Although Spradling is just the Wildcats’ fourth-leading scorer, his importance to the flow of an offense led by freshmen and unproven scorers has been proven time and time again.

One of four players in school history with 1,000 points, 300 rebounds, 300 assists and 100 steals, Spradling has been around the block and played enough Big 12 basketball to understand how to deal with the ups and downs of a high-level basketball game.

But without him, even opponents could see how the offense suffered.

“He’s just kind of the thing that keeps that team together,” Oklahoma State guard Phil Forte said. “He’s a senior, he’s been there, a starter for four years — he’s kind of that leader on the team. There’s some young guys and he holds it all together. When he’s not on the court you can kind of tell they get undisciplined at times.”

Spradling finished the game with nine points on 3-of-4 shooting, but he played just 23 minutes, much lower than his average 30 per game.

With Spradling out of the game, K-State coach Bruce Weber turned to freshmen Nigel Johnson and Jevon Thomas to run the offense. Weber said he thought Johnson played OK at times, but Thomas struggled.

Thomas Gipson said both have to learn how to do a better job at spelling Spradling.

“It’s a major difference, (Spradling) gets us into the offense,” Gipson said. “Nigel and Jevon, they’re young, but they’ve just got to learn sooner or later and have to be focused. Will’s a senior, he’s mature, and he’s a major part of this team.”

Spradling opened the game by fouling Brown on the Cowboys’ first possession of the game, also on a drive to the basket. Both were fouls that Weber said Spradling knows he has to be smarter about.

“We need him in the game,” Weber said. “He gives us stability and intelligence.”

Spradling will be one of four seniors who plays in his last regular season game in Bramlage Coliseum on Saturday against Baylor.

As stable as a driving force he’s been for the Wildcats’ offense, even in terms of running the system, his approaching graduation from the program will be one that’s surely noticeable for K-State.

“He’s been a great player,” Forte said. “And I think they’re going to miss him.”

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