For the second straight game, Angel Rodriguez lit the fire.
With a career-high 19 points, Rodriguez sparked a 15-0 run to open the ballgame for Kansas State, and led an 8-0 run on his own in the second half en route to a 79-55 win over Lamar on Monday in Bramlage Coliseum.
The Wildcats will face Division II Alabama-Huntsville tonight at 9 in the second round of the NIT Tipoff Midwest Regional. Alabama-Huntsville upset North Texas 78-75 late Monday night.
K-State opened the game with back-to-back buckets from Jordan Henriquez and Rodriguez before Will Spradling knocked down a 3 to push the lead out to 7-0. Spradling dished an alley-oop dunk to Rodney McGruder, before Henriquez made a bucket and Rodriguez made 1-of-2 free throws and a 3 to give the Wildcats a 15-0 lead with 16:02 to play in the first half.
Lamar had more turnovers than it did made field goals in the first half, giving the ball away 14 times in the first half, while making 6-of-21 from the field.
The Wildcats turned in a 17-2 run to stretch their lead to 32-7 with 4:42 left. Lamar pulled as close as 24 points before D.J. Johnson and McGruder made a pair of shots in the final 31 seconds to give the Wildcats a 43-15 halftime advantage.
K-State coach Bruce Weber said his team came out with energy from the beginning.
“It’s pretty obvious we came ready to play,” Weber said. “We started off on a 15-0 run, we were well prepared defensively, we jumped to the ball, clogged the lane up, and we drove to the basket. We were able to get some pressure and they turned the ball over 14 times in the first half and we were able to get some transition out of that.
“We were able to get some easy baskets and had a 30-point lead at halftime. We came out loose and free and made shots.”
Lamar added to its dismal 28.6 percent from the field in the first half and packaged that with rebound struggles, getting beat on the boards 25-to-13, including 13-to-5 on offensive rebounds.
Spradling said it was a preview of what the Wildcats can do when they’re firing on all cylinders.
“It was definitely a defensive based half and that’s what we want to do, is be a defensive team first and let offense come to us,” he said. “That is what happened in the first half.”
The Cardinals got it turned around in the second half, coming out firing out well, especially from deep. Lamar’s Donley Minor made three 3-pointers and knocked down three shots at the free throw line to help Lamar pull within 57-33 with 14:19 to play.
An 8-0 run helped the Cardinals pull within 20 with eight minutes to play, sending nerves through the K-State coaching staff according to K-State.
That’s where Rodriguez took over.
He started by hitting a jump shot, and then made 3s in consecutive possessions to put the Wildcats out ahead by 28, ending the slow comeback from Lamar.
Rodriguez said he was looking to help his team out when it needed it most.
“My mentality is to do whatever helps the team — if it happens to be to score, I do it,” he said. “I try to do it well, like coach always says, ‘try to make everyone else happy and if you get a chance to score, score.’”
Henriquez had a stronger performance than his 10 minutes in the season opener last Friday, finishing with five points, eight rebounds and six blocks in 17 minutes.
Weber said the matchups were better for Henriquez against Lamar than they were against North Dakota.
“He was pretty active, but this was an easier game for them because they had bigger people,” he said. “Versus North Dakota they had those guys sliding around against him, going around setting ball screens — it was rough for him to keep up with them. This time they might pin down and curl, but they went to the post and he was able to help. When we did put pressure on them, we forced guys to go to the bucket and he gave great help.”
Knight returns to Bramlage
Lamar coach Pat Knight returned to Manhattan for the first time since he coached the Texas Tech Red Raiders to a 94-60 loss.
Knight, who is now 0-3 in Bramlage Coliseum, talked about how much the atmosphere around basketball has changed at K-State in the last decade.
“I didn’t win here as a head coach, but we won some games with my dad as head coach,” he said. “The fans have gotten better every year because we got to (Texas) Tech over 10 years ago, crowds were kind of sparse and then (Bob Huggins) got here and things picked up, the job Frank (Martin)‘s done. It’s kind of neat to see just the transition, this has really become a basketball school.”
Knight coached under his father Bob Knight at Texas Tech from 2001-08. His father, now a broadcaster from ESPN, talked to Pat by phone on Sunday night, wanting to make sure a certain player was still on the Wildcats’ roster.
“Spradling is my dad’s favorite player,” Knight said. “He asked me last night, ‘is that kid still there, that’s my guy, that’s my favorite player.’”
Knight said Monday was a special day for him for reasons beyond basketball, after he got the opportunity to meet with K-State coach Bill Snyder.
“I got to go meet coach Snyder during lunch, so that was big for me,” he said. “To meet one of the best coaches of all time. Even though I got my butt whooped I got to meet coach Snyder, so I actually had a pretty good day besides the game.”