KANSAS CITY, Mo. — All year long, Kansas State has leaned on guys like Rodney McGruder and Shane Southwell to come up big when the chips are down.
Potentially facing his last game as a Wildcat, Jordan Henriquez decided to join the club.
While K-State fell short against La Salle, 63-61, in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Friday, Henriquez’s 17-point, 12-rebound and fiveblock effort gave the Wildcats a fighting chance.
“I just took advantage of the opportunity,” Henriquez said. “I’m not looking at my numbers. We were down and Coach challenged us. We all continued to fight.”
After a forgettable first half for K-State, Henriquez led the charge following halftime to get the Wildcats back in the game. He was especially good around the rim, catching lobs from teammates and finishing over smaller defenders in the paint.
“When you got him back there protecting the rim, he does a tremendous job of that,” McGruder said. “Today, you know, he dominated the boards and he was effective around the rim. We’d pass him the ball, he’d score it. He played very well.”
In what has otherwise been an up-and-down season for Henriquez, playing well in his final college game was nice, but didn’t provide much consolation. The senior battled a back injury most of the year and found himself in and out of the starting lineup depending on matchups. On Friday, head coach Bruce Weber knew he wanted his senior post in the game and leading the way.
“I think Jordan has been a good leader for us, along with all of (the seniors),” Weber said. “But Jordan’s got that personality that you really enjoy. He’s good to be around.
“When he played focused, ready to play, he was a major factor. It’s just too bad we couldn’t get everybody playing well at the same time because that’s what it takes to win at this level.”
While the game was a banner day for Henriquez, the senior didn’t play particularly well in the final minute. With 32 seconds to play and the game tied at 61, he was whistled for an over-the-back foul on a rebound attempt off a McGruder miss from 3.
After La Salle’s Jerelle Wright made 1 of 2 free throws to give the Explorers the lead, Henriquez caught the ball near the top of the key and after finding no open teammates, tried a spinning move toward the basket followed by a contested shot that didn’t go. La Salle got the rebound and made one more free throw to put the game away as Angel Rodriguez’s jumper at the buzzer was off the mark.
“It was a play drawn up, but it wasn’t drawn up for me,” Henriquez said of his last shot attempt. “I just made a play. Coach just told us we have to go out there and play basketball. I guess I just made a play off of that.”
Regardless of the ending, Henriquez said his big day was less about putting up numbers in the postseason and more based off his screen and roll game with K-State’s guards.
“I just did a good job of getting open and setting screens for our guys,” he said. “They were over-hooking on our guards and I was able to get dump-downs.”
Junior guard Will Spradling said the emotions in the locker room were tough for everyone, but the seniors took it especially hard.
“They didn’t want it to end,” Spradling said. “It’s tough. The only good thing is all three will probably be playing basketball somewhere next year, so that’s something to look forward to.”