Kansas State led the No. 4 team in the country by one and seemingly had everything going for it. The crowd was into the game — the Wildcats were starting to make shots and their defense was relentless.
And then Bill Self made an adjustment. The Kansas coach went to a triangle-and-two defense, going man-to-man on K-State’s Rodney McGruder and Will Spradling, and all of a sudden, the Wildcats simply couldn’t score.
K-State took a 37-36 lead on a Thomas Gipson free throw with 11:49 remaining, then proceeded to not score another point until a Gipson basket with 5:11 left. That scoring drought allowed KU to regain control of the game, as the Jayhawks went on an 11-0 run to take a 47-37 advantage during that stretch.
“Those junk defenses, and I say that in a nice way, they’re made to get you to stand around,” K-State coach Frank Martin said. “That defense is designed to try and take away the guys who get you in offense and gets you to be passive. That’s what it did to us, we got passive. It got us to stand around and slowed us down. But that’s not on our kids, that’s on us (coaches).”
Self has utilized the triangle-and-two in the past against K-State, particularly when Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente played together for the Wildcats.
“We thought we’d probably play it but we wanted to make sure we had the right lineup to play it against,” Self said. “To me they’re hard to do that to when (Jamar) Samuels makes shots, (Angel) Rodriguez, (Will) Spradling, and (Rodney) McGruder make shots. We just tried to pick our spot. But we did a pretty good job in it, that’s when we were able to get a little bit of a lead during that brief stretch.”
K-State had made seven of its first 16 shots to open the second half, but missed its next seven shots when the defensive switch was made.
The Wildcats missed 24 of their 31 shots in the first half, while misfiring on several open 3s as they fell behind 28-18.
“Got to make shots,” Martin said. “You play a good team like Kansas and you get a crack, you’ve got to make it. You’re 7-for-31 with eight turnovers at halftime, you’re lucky you’re in the game against anyone in the Big 12, let alone one of the top-five teams in the country. I told our guys, ‘I don’t know what to tell you, you’ve got a open shot, you’ve got to make it, it’s plain and simple.’”
Anytime the Wildcats penetrated into the paint, KU’s Jeff Withey was there to protect the basket. Withey, a 7-foot junior, blocked nine shots as he narrowly missed a triple-double.
“I thought he was fabulous,” Self said. “We did a great job defensively (in the first half). Our first-shot defense was terrific.”
K-State’s defense wasn’t bad either. The Wildcats held KU to 39.6 percent shooting, and that percentage would have been lower if K-State would have been able to get into a set defense on several possessions. KU scored 14 fast-break points, mostly on ally-oops in transition off of loose-ball situations.
Martin said most of those transition points for the Jayhawks were a result of bad offense on K-State’s part.
“Defensively we played with fight, discipline, we didn’t commit a lot of silly fouls,” he said. “We were pretty good.
“Our turnovers are our weakest link, that continues to be a problem. People are going to look at that and say ‘well they only turned it over 11 times, what’s he talking about?’ Well, eight of the 11 led to breakaway dunks. That’s 16 points that you can’t defend and that’s the problem with our team. We just make boneheaded plays and mistakes that lead to easy baskets. Our defense isn’t a problem, it continues to be our offense.”
• Jamar Samuels scored 20 points and had 12 rebounds while making 4-of-6 from 3.
• KU scored less than 60 points, marking the first time it has won since 2009 when scoring below that number. K-State was 10-0 on the season when holding its opponents to less than 60 points.
• K-State shot 22.6 percent from the floor in the first half, marking the lowest percentage the Wildcats have shot from the field in a half this season.
• The Wildcats’ Thomas Gipson was whistled for a technical foul in the second half. Martin said Gipson said a cuss word on the floor to draw the technical.