STILLWATER, Okla. — Over the past couple of weeks, Angel Rodriguez has experienced the emotional rollercoaster that is the life of a freshman college athlete.
On Jan. 10, Rodriguez had three crucial turnovers late in a 75-73 loss against then-No. 4 Baylor. A couple of days later he was running stairs during practice, and a day following that, on Jan. 14, he sat on the bench throughout the entirety of a 82-73 loss at Oklahoma.
Come Jan. 18, the freshman point guard was making his first career collegiate start in a win against Texas. And this past Saturday, Rodriguez scored 14 points, had six rebounds and three assists to help lead the Wildcats to a 66-58 victory at Oklahoma State, helping K-State put an end to its 11-game losing streak in Stillwater.
“The Baylor game, I made some mistakes at the end,” Rodriguez said following the win at Oklahoma State. “I felt like I had to make up for it so I did. I challenged myself because I know I’m capable of making good plays at the end of the game.”
He did against the Cowboys. With the game on the line, the ball spent a significant amount of time in Rodriguez’s hands, as he remained composed when the crowd’s decibel level increased. The Puerto Rican native made 4-of-6 from the free-throw line in the final 92 seconds, as the Wildcats (14-4, 3-3) got back to .500 in Big 12 play.
“I always want the ball in late situations,” he said. “If I mess up and I don’t make the right play I’m willing to take the blame. But I know I can make the plays late in the game.”
Playing the way Rodriguez did as a freshman in an arena like Gallagher-Iba was an impressive feat, but none of that would have likely happened had it not been for the way he responded to the challenge that was issued from the K-State coaching staff.
“We played at Oklahoma and I didn’t play,” he said. “I was upset. I’m a competitor and I like playing so I was upset I couldn’t help the team. We came to Manhattan (after the loss) and right when I got off the bus I went straight to the gym, shot I don’t know how many shots, but it was a lot. I tried to work on my game, tried to make up for whatever it is I did. So I told myself that I had to step it up and not keep doing the wrong things.”
On Saturday, while he still made mistakes typical of any freshman, Rodriguez also did several things right.
“He stepped up,” Jamar Samuels said. “It’s good to see a freshman stepping up this time of the year. He’s playing amazing right now. I know he’s going to continue playing this way.”
After a low point just a week earlier, his performance against the Cowboys was one of the highs thus far on the freshman rollercoaster.
“It always feels good to play good, especially because we won,” he said. “I took the challenge and the responsibility that Coach gave me by putting me in the starting lineup and so I’m just trying to help the team. If I have to pass the ball, defend, shoot — whatever it is I’ve got to do, I’ll do it.”
Rodriguez has now started consecutive games, replacing Martavious Irving in the lineup, a switch Martin likes right now.
“Martavious gives us a certain consistency with how he plays every day and we were not getting that from our bench,” Martin said. “From the bench we were getting great games or bad games from everyone. You’ve got to have consistency coming off the bench. That’s what (Irving) does for us.
“Angel, we need him to be good. He alleviates a lot of responsibilities for Will Spradling from having to deal with that 37 minutes of dealing with the ball against pressure. So we made that switch and Martavious was good with it, he’s handled it like a champ. I couldn’t be happier with how unselfish he’s been with me making that decision. We’re going to run with that for a while and see what happens.”