It all started a week ago with Kansas State guard Will Spradling’s quiet but, efficient eight-point, four-rebound, four-assist performance against Texas in Austin.
The senior made 2 of 4 from 3-point range, while committing just one turnover in 29 minutes against the Longhorns.
(Kansas State Will Spradling tries to get around Texas Tech’s Dusty Hannahs on Tuesday night at Bramlage Coliseum. Spradling scored 17 points to lead the Wildcats to the 66-59 victory over Red Raiders).
It continued last Saturday, as the Overland Park native scored 12 points — hitting 4 of 6 from behind the arc against Iowa State in Ames.
Then on Tuesday night, Spradling scored a team-high 17 points to help K-State beat Texas Tech, 66-58.
Spradling has averaged 12 points, 3.5 assists and three rebounds — including 8 of 16 from long range — with only one turnover in his last three games.
“Will’s got going a little bit lately,” K-State head coach Bruce Weber said. “I think it helps to have Jevon (Thomas). It gets him off the ball. I think we’re screening a little better to get him open, which is positive.”
For what it’s worth, it was the Texas game when Spradling decided to shed his normal undershirt and opt for bare arms.
Back in Bramlage Coliseum on Tuesday — still sleeveless — Spradling hit two more 3s while scoring nine first-half points to help K-State to a 32-20 halftime advantage.
Cold shooting by K-State in the second half allowed Texas Tech to cut that lead to just four points with 5:17 to play.
The Wildcats’ top scorers, freshman guard Marcus Foster and senior forward Shane Southwell had combined for just two points to that point.
K-State went to Spradling.
“We told him that if he’s going good and shooting the ball well, to play confident,” Weber said. “He’s got to jump up and make shots for us.”
Spradling gunned back into action.
On a possession that saw him denied twice on attempts to free himself from outside, a switch left Spradling guarded by Red Raiders Jaye Crockett with the shot clock winding down and the Wildcat offense frozen.
Spradling took advantage of the mismatch, put his head down and from the left wing drove past Crockett to beat the Tech defense for an acrobatic up-and-under layup in traffic. The shot broke a streak that had seen K-State hit just one field goal in seven minutes.
“Again, a gut-check,” Weber said. “Will made an unbelievable layup on a great play.
From there, Spradling, a career 81-percent free-throw shooter that had been struggling from the line this season (68 percent), got that back on track as well. He made six straight down the stretch to finish 7 of 8, as he and the Wildcats accomplished something they hadn’t yet during his hot streak.
The victory helps improve on an NCAA tournament resume that already includes four wins over top 50 RPI teams.
“I’m feeling a lot more relaxed when I shoot,” Spradling said, echoing his coach’s sentiments. “I was kind of rushing it before, and at the free-throw line, I’ve really tried to slow myself down, and that’s helped out a lot.”
Spradling filled the void against Texas Tech, but it wasn’t the first time that others have stepped up to help K-State stave off a lack of production or early foul trouble from one of its key contributors this season. Spradling pointed to the bench.
“This wasn’t the only game that we’ve done it,” he said. “There’s been multiple games where we’ve relied on them. Obviously Nino (Williams) came in multiple times and had big games. Omari’s done well, (Thomas) has stepped up.”
The Wildcats have made a habit of picking each other up this season.
Southwell opened Big 12 play against Oklahoma State by fouling out with just six points in 17 minutes. But 17 points and eight rebounds from Foster, Williams’ 15 points, and Thomas Gipson’s double-double were enough for the Wildcats to upset then-No. 6 Oklahoma State.
Gipson scored just four points in 16 minutes due to foul trouble when No. 23 Oklahoma visited Manhattan, but Foster and Southwell, led the way with 18 and 16 points, respectively.
Williams again helped fill the void inside, notching 10 points and nine rebounds as K-State took down the Sooners.
But whether Spradling’s breakout can be attributed to a senior’s sense of urgency, newfound relaxation or a wardrobe change, we don’t know.
As far as the sleeves, though?
“No,” Spradling said of the sleeves he hasn’t had on since Austin. “I probably won’t be wearing those again.”