PITTSBURGH — Southern Mississippi is a team built to attack the basket on the offensive end of the floor. It’s what the Golden Eagles have done all season. The only problem: there was a 6-foot-11 wall wearing a Kansas State uniform protecting the rim on Thursday.
K-State’s Jordan Henriquez blocked six shots in the Wildcats’ 70-64 win over the Golden Eagles, and he did much more than what the numbers say.
“Jordan impacted the game in more ways than what just shows statistically,” K-State associate head coach Brad Underwood said. “Because they basically quit driving the ball into the paint and that’s what they do. He had six blocks and got credit for that, but his impact was well beyond that. They quit doing what they do because of him.”
Henriquez, who broke K-State’s single-season blocks record on Thursday (has 77 blocks), was a key factor in holding Southern Mississippi to just 18 points in the paint.
“You take Jordan Henriquez off that team… he’s a huge factor,” Southern Miss head coach Larry Eustachy said. “When you’re used to going to the rim, he really changes the game. When you get by somebody, you’ve got to get by him. He had six blocked shots, and those are all layups. That’s 12 points.”
The Golden Eagles shot 22-of-60 from the field and were forced into shooting several jumpers because of Henriquez’s presence in the paint.
“Something we really talked about is they’re going to try and dribble-drive us a lot,” K-State guard Will Spradling said. “We knew we could get out and pressure them and if we got beat off the dribble we knew (Henriquez) was going to be there to protect the rim. So we were able to pick up our intensity on the ball and not really have to worry about getting beat. That allowed us to get a couple of steals and get in transition quick as well.”
Martin said one of the biggest keys for Henriquez is he’s not standing around on the defensive end. When teams try to drag him out to the perimeter, he has quickly recovered to get back into the paint and protect the rim.
“If your man plays out of control and we take teams out of structure, make them play one-on-one, you’ve got this guy behind you over here,” Martin said. “That’s going to erase a lot of those one-on-one games.
“Jordan is very in-tune right now. There’s a reason we set a school record for fewest points allowed since the shot-clock era. Because guys are really, really trusting in each other and our concepts. Jordan has done a great job protecting the rim.”
He’s also been solid on the offensive end. The junior scored 15 points and grabbed nine rebounds on Thursday, and something that didn’t go unnoticed was his work at the free-throw line, where he hit 9-of-10.
“Jordan, after the last few games has been very, very good at the line,” Underwood said. “Jordan was a recipient of some nice passes but he also was on the offensive glass creating some opportunities for himself to get to the foul line and that was huge.”
Henriquez’s escalation to get to this point — to where he is a guy teams are keying in on — is something Martin can’t say enough about.
“He was just a guy who we believed had a chance,” Martin said, recalling the recruitment of Henriquez. “He’s worked his tail off. I couldn’t be prouder.”
USM apologizes for pep band chant
While K-State freshman Angel Rodriguez was shooting free throws during the first half on Thursday, the Southern Miss pep band was heard chanting, “Where’s your green card?”
The Associated Press reported Southern Miss President Martha Saunders issuing a statement shortly after the game apologizing for the band’s behavior. She says USM “will take quick and appropriate disciplinary action against the students involved in this isolated incident.”
USM interim athletic director Jeff Hammond met with Kansas State athletic director John Currie later to apologize again. He says the band’s action was unacceptable.