COLLEGE STATION, Texas —Kansas State has dropped four games at home this year, and admittedly, a couple of them the Wildcats probably should have won. But the best medicine toward taking some of the sting out of losing on the home court is the ability to march into a road arena and leave with a win, something K-State has proven to be pretty good at in recent years.
For just the second time (both under Martin) in the Wildcats’ last 24 seasons, K-State finished with an above .500 record on the road in league play as it defeated Texas A&M 76-70 in Reed Arena, marking K-State’s third straight road win to give the Wildcats a 5-4 mark in league play away from home.
“How crazy is that?” K-State coach Frank Martin said. “We’ve been real good at home for the last five years and we’ve been good on the road. That’s why we always have been in the mix and this year we can’t win at home.”
Speaking of crazy, how about the Wildcats’ effort from beyond the arc? Coming off a 3-of-17 shooting performance from 3 in a loss at home to Iowa State, A&M couldn’t get K-State to miss. The Wildcats (20-9, 9-8) made 8-of-9 from 3-point distance in the first half and finished 12-of-17 (70.6 percent) from beyond the arc.
“It just went in,” explained Jamar Samuels, who scored 17 points and collected 11 rebounds on Tuesday. “We were just putting it up and I looked up at the scoreboard and saw we’re shooting 89 percent in the first half (from 3), and I was like ‘that’s unreal.’ And we just kept shooting.”
No 3 was bigger than Rodney McGruder’s final field goal of the night. Texas A&M (13-16, 4-13) had just pulled within three on a fade-away jumper by Dash Harris. Martin called a timeout with 2:44 remaining to call a play that worked to perfection. McGruder sprinted the baseline, utilized a key screen by a teammate and connected on a 3 from the corner to put K-State up by six with 2:26 left. The Aggies wouldn’t get closer than four the rest of the way.
“Coach called a play and I was ready,” said McGruder, who scored a game-high 26 points, including five 3-pointers. “In my mind, I knew if I had any space or any room I was going to shoot the ball and I was just prepared.”
Martin said he was pleased with his team’s execution of what he called during the timeout.
“We came out of the timeout and we got exactly what we wanted,” Martin said. “Guys got the ball to the right spot, set good screens, Rodney waited and was patient, didn’t come (down the baseline) too early. Good players give you a little gap and you’ve got to be able to get rid of it. Hats off to him for jumping up and making a big-time shot in a big-time moment.”
A&M cut the lead to four on a Harris layup with 1:51 left. On K-State’s ensuing possession, with the shot clock winding down, Angel Rodriguez’s shot in the paint bounced off the rim, but Jordan Henriquez was there for the offensive board and put-back dunk to push K-State’s lead back to six.
The Wildcats followed that with a key defensive stop when Khris Middleton missed a 3 from the wing, and Rodriguez made 5-of-6 from the foul line in the final 51 seconds to seal it.
“They made their run and we had to stop it,” Samuels said. “We couldn’t let them get ahead of us. As a team, we buckled down, got a defensive stop and Rodney hit a big shot for us.”
Samuels hit key shots as well, and was involved in perhaps the biggest momentum swing of the game. With K-State leading by six, Elston Turner, who had yet to miss a shot in the game, went to the free-throw line after McGruder fouled him on a 3 with 5:37 left.
Turner, an 82-percent shooter at the charity stripe this season, missed all three from the line. Then 28 seconds later, Samuels buried a 3 from the corner — a potential six-point swing that gave the Wildcats a 66-57 advantage.
“How crazy is that?” Martin said. “That young man is an 82-percent foul shooter, hasn’t missed a shot the whole half and misses three free throws and all three are in, they just come out.
“That was huge. Then Angel made a great read, saw Jamar’s man over helping and he throws that cross-court pass and give Jamar credit, that was a big play in the game.”
The Wildcats made 48 percent of their shots from the floor overall, including 58 percent in the first half. The Aggies entered Tuesday equipped with the No. 2 scoring defense in the Big 12, ranked second in 3-point field-goal percentage defense (5.1 makes from behind the arc per game) and A&M was third in the league with a defense that held teams to 43.3 percent from the field.
K-State significantly exceeded all of those defensive numbers as its 76 points were the most a Big 12 team has scored against A&M in league play, and was the second-most the Aggies have allowed in 29 games this season.
“We’ve lost our share because we can’t make any (3s),” Martin said. “We’ve got guys who can make shots, we’ve just got to do a better job of passing at the right time and spacing properly.
“We were real good at it in the first half and then we were embarrassingly bad again in the second half. We would just hold the ball and it almost cost us the game. But we did it well enough where guys were able to get shots and then the guys who shot it made it.”
K-State will return home for senior day against Oklahoma State on Saturday — one final chance to take to the home court this season. The Cats’ mission on the road has been accomplished, now they hope they can get back to protecting Bramlage Coliseum from the opposition.
“With a young team that’s had its difficult moments — if you look deeper into it — you think about the game at Iowa State, the game at Texas, we’ve had double-figure leads in the second halves of those two,” Martin said. “We could very easily have won seven road games in Big 12 play, that’s how close we are.
“At home all four games we’ve lost have come down to the last possession of the game. So we’re right there, we’re disappointed, losing at home isn’t something I like. Nobody likes that and it’s something we’ve got to change. We’ve played hard but not well at home. We get one more chance to get that taste out of our mouth.”