WACO, Texas — Angel Rodriguez called last Monday’s loss to Kansas the worst game of his life. On Saturday, the freshman pulled a 180, arguably playing the best game of his college career as Kansas State (18-8, 7-7) defeated No. 9 Baylor 57-56.
Rodriguez didn’t look like a freshman against the Bears (22-5, 9-5). He scored 15 points on 7-of-12 shooting, dished out six assists to just four turnovers and had four steals on the defensive end.
“I needed to bounce back after that game (against KU),” Rodriguez said. “I really came focused and ready to play today — other than the first couple of minutes.”
Those first two minutes consisted of Rodriguez getting beat off the dribble by Pierre Jackson for a layup, then turning the ball over twice. Playing a career-high 39 minutes, Rodriguez had just two turnovers the rest of the way and his defense against Jackson was solid.
“He was great,” K-State coach Frank Martin said.
A large reason why was the encouragement offered by Martin following last Monday’s game.
“I just told him to stay positive,” Martin said. “He guarded a guy in (KU’s) Tyshawn Taylor who might be the best point guard in the country, fought his tail off and kept Tyshawn out of the paint. With the game on the line (Rodriguez) was willing to go make a play. Now Jeff Withey made a better play by blocking that shot but that doesn’t negate his willingness to be in that moment.
“That’s basically what I talked to him about was to continue to learn, continue to battle. You came here because you’re about the things we’re about. That’s why you picked this school, so just continue to have confidence, understand we have confidence in you, your teammates love you and it’s going to be alright.”
That message was taken to heart by the 5-foot-11 guard.
“I always wanted to play for somebody who communicates with me, especially because I’m a point guard so we need to have a good connection,” Rodriguez said. “I was kind of frustrated but he sat me down and he told me don’t worry about it, youre going to be OK. I told him I needed to hear that, especially from him, because I’m playing for him — he’s my coach.”
Being a freshman in college basketball is a rollercoaster ride, especially for a point guard. While there have been bumps in the road, the growth Rodriguez has made was evident on Saturday.
The last time the two teams met, the freshman turned the ball over multiple times late as K-State lost by two. This time around, he made game-winning plays, hitting Jordan Henriquez for an ally-oop with 1:55 remaining to give K-State the lead for good.
“Angel Rodriguez’ play, when we went up there he wasn’t even really involved in the game,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “Today I thought he really played a good game on the road for them — did a tremendous job.”
Martin said his freshman has matured as a person and as a player.
“He understands what I want better and I understand him better as a player,” Martin said. “He’s battling his tail off right now. He’s a guy at the end of the shot clock who is willing to go make a play for himself or a teammate and where he’s grown the most is defensively. Early in the year he didn’t understand all the rotations, he just wasn’t where he needed to be.
“He’s doing a better job of that. He’ll tell you he’s gotten better but he’s not where he needs to be. But that willingness to move forward is what you’ve got to respect as a coach.”
• Center Jordan Henriquez blocked three shots on Saturday, giving the junior 121 career blocks, tying the school record.
• Baylor entered Saturday’s game with the No. 7 RPI in the country and a strength of schedule that ranked 10th. With the win, K-State’s RPI, which was in the 50s prior to Saturday, will receive a significant boost.
• K-State, which also beat No. 3 Missouri in the second game of Big 12 play, has now beaten two top-10 teams this season.
• Texas lost on Saturday at Oklahoma State, dropping the Longhorns to 7-7 in the league, creating a tie for fifth place in the league between the Wildcats and Texas.
• Rodney McGruder and Rodriguez each scored 15 points, marking the only two K-State players to reach double figures. Jamar Samuels scored nine points and had five rebounds in 35 minutes, while Henriquez recorded nine points and seven rebounds to go along with his three blocks.
• Perry Jones III, a future NBA lottery pick, had just four points and four rebounds. He fouled out with 5:05 to play.
• Baylor entered Saturday second in the league in scoring offense at 75.2 points per game. K-State held the Bears 19 points below their season average. Baylor, which made 20-of-52 from the floor, shot 10 percent below its season average against the Wildcats. The Bears led the league in 3-point field-goal percentage prior to Saturday, making 39 percent of their attempts. Baylor missed all five of its first-half 3s and made just four overall.