For the first time this season, the Kansas State men’s basketball team found itself in a tight game.
Despite leading by as much as 11 in the second half, the Wildcats saw Delaware come back and had to hold on to win 66-63 in the semi-finals of the NIT Season Tip-Off on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Kansas State will play in the final against Michigan on Friday at 2:30 on ESPN.
K-State coach Bruce Weber said it was an ugly game.
“It had been so good for us at home and we had defended so well, made shots, and the games came easy, he said. “Now it didn’t come quite as easy. We missed a lot of easy shots, made some mistakes defensively.”
The Wildcats struggled with their shot in the first half, especially around the basket, allowing the Blue Hens to stay in the game. K-State got up 19-12 with 8:25 to play in the first half before Delaware made its come back into the game.
Adrian Diaz made a layup for the Wildcats with 7:10 left to push the K-State lead back out to seven points, but the team wouldn’t score again until Angel Rodriguez hit a pair of free throws with 2:37 left, putting the Wildcats out ahead 23-20.
Delaware’s Jamelle Hagins, who had 10 points and 10 rebounds in the first half, scored with 41 seconds left to tie the game at 25. Shane Southwell made a jump shot with nine seconds left to put the Wildcats ahead 27-25 at halftime.
Will Spradling made a 3-pointer early in the second half to extend K-State’s lead to 37-31. Delaware’s Devon Saddler, who scored a game-high 32 points and 23 in the second half, brought the team within one point at 39-38 with a 7-2 run.
The Wildcats turned in a 7-2 run with less than 10 minutes to play to go ahead 56-45, but Delaware just wouldn’t go away.
Saddler turned in a three-point play with five minutes to play to bring the Blue Hens within four points at 56-52. After the Wildcats pushed ahead 60-55, Saddler nailed a 3-pointer to bring the Blue Hens within two with 1:27 to play.
Spradling was 4-for-4 at the free throw line in the final 30 seconds to help the Wildcats put the game away. Spradling led K-State with 12 points, while Rodriguez and Thomas Gipson also chipped in 12 apiece.
Spradling said he was confident in both his trips to the free throw line
“I’ve been in that situation before plenty of times,” he said. “You’re s little nervous when you go out there, but it’s something you go up there everyday. I put up at least 50 free throws a day. It was something I’m used to and was confident about going into.”
After his 10-point, 10-rebound performance in the first half, Hagins was held to 12 points and 15 rebounds after suffering an injury early in the second half.
Delaware coach Monte Ross said it was a tough loss to take, especially with Hagins missing much of the second half.
“It’s always tough to swallow because we ask these guys to put everything they have into every game we play, and the did,” he said. “When you don’t get the desired result, it hurts. So we’re down right now, but we’ll pick ourselves up.
The Wildcats shot a season-low 38 percent from the field, and made just 4-of-12 from 3-point range. The K-State forwards shot 11-of-28 from the field.
As they have in all five games this season, the Wildcats won the rebounding battle 39-31, including 18 offensive boards.