COLUMBIA, Mo. — Frank Martin made a prediction prior to the beginning of Kansas State’s season that’s now starting to come to fruition.
“I said earlier in the year it’s got a chance to be the best defensive team that we’ve coached,” the K-State head coach said after the Wildcats defeated No. 3 Missouri on Tuesday night.
It’s beginning to look like he was right. The Wildcats (19-8, 8-7) have been dominant on the defensive end of the floor of late. Over the last three games, against the Big 12’s top-three offenses, K-State has held its opponents to a combined 38.8 percent accuracy from the floor and 30.8 percent from 3.
The Wildcats held Missouri, the No. 2 field-goal percentage offense in the country, 12 percent below its season average and in doing so, kept the Tigers 12 points below their scoring average per game as well.
The game before, K-State bottled up Baylor, the No. 25 field-goal percentage offense in the country (47.8 percent), holding the Bears to 38.5 percent and 18.5 points below their 74.5 points-per-game average.
And in a loss to Kansas, the Wildcats kept the Jayhawks nearly 10 percent below their 48.6 percent average on the season while holding them to 16 points below the 75 points they average per game.
“We take a lot of pride in that,” Martin said. “That’s three in a row. That’s a credit to our kids. I just told them they’re taking so much pride in all the work we do in the preseason and the early part of the season to build our defensive techniques, concepts, our philosophies. They’ve taken an unbelievable amount of pride in doing those things everyday. So that allows us to now spend a little more time on the offensive side of the ball and try to clean that up. That’s the way we try to do it every year.
“We had to go through trips, trials and tribulations like everyone else. We’re young but our kids have continued fighting the fight and are playing real well right now.”
The Wildcats are making their opponents uncomfortable on offense. Over their past six games, teams playing K-State have combined for 61 assists and 99 turnovers while averaging just 59.5 points per game in those six contests. The 10.2 assists per game given up by K-State in that stretch is a sign that K-State’s defense is taking opponents out of their offense — in other words, they aren’t getting many shots through their offensive sets and rather are scoring more in one-on-one situations.
Despite the recent defensive surge, Martin said nothing has changed schematically.
“Some teams play different defensively against different people,” he said. “We have a system in place and we stick to those principles. Now we make adjustments on individual personnel but we stick to the principles of how we guard screens, cuts, ball screens, we don’t deviate from what we do very often. We stick to those things.
“But whatever way you play, your kids have to be prideful and in-tune with one another. This is not a one-on-one game, it’s a five-on-five game. Our guys are tuned in right now playing as a unit.”
Part of the reason K-State has been so good over the last three games defensively is the play of Jordan Henriquez. The 7-foot junior has blocked 13 shots and altered several more during that stretch.
“Jordan is playing with tremendous energy right now and discipline,” Martin said. “He’s not quitting on plays, he’s moving, he’s balanced, zoned in.
“It’s so important that he’s a part of what we do. Because the way we defend, we try to speed you up so you don’t run a lot of offense. Now when you put your head down and go you’ve got him back there and I think he impacted the (Missouri) game — he’s impacted the last three games.”
Another reason K-State has been so good defensively has been directly correlated to its offense of late, Martin said. The Wildcats turned the ball over only 11 times against Missouri and 15 times against Baylor last Saturday, an improvement from earlier in the year. And because of that, K-State has been able to set up its half-court defense more often instead of teams getting fast-break points.
“The problem is we turned it over so much people would get easy shots in transition against us,” Martin said. “Now we’re starting to keep people away from those baskets so that field-goal percentage is starting to become more realistic of what it is against our set defense.”
Samuels earns double-double
Missouri incorrectly credited a basket to Jordan Henriquez at the 17:41-mark of the second half on Tuesday. K-State announced on Wednesday the shot was actually made by Jamar Samuels, giving the senior forward a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Tuesday marked Samuels’ 11th double-double of his career and his sixth of the season.