Rodriguez sparks Cats in Weber’s debut

By Joel Jellison

Bruce Weber is always looking for something to spark his team when it comes out of the locker room.

When the Wildcats came out of the locker room for the second half on Friday against North Dakota, Angel Rodriguez was the one that got it going in an 85-52 win.

Rodriguez orchestrated an 8-2 run all on his own to push K-State ahead 44-31 in the first minute and a half of the second half starting with back-to-back 3-pointers. After a basket from North Dakota, he responded with a transition layup on the other end.

Rodriguez, who played just four minutes in the first half, finished with 13 points, all scored in the second half. The sophomore said he knew he had to come out and play with energy.

“I barely played the first half so I usually play with a lot of energy, I knew this time I had to come out with the most energy I have ever played with,” he said. “I was fresh, my legs were fresh, I did have to be careful, which I kind of was not. The main point was just playing hard and playing our game. We started playing our game, running transitions, setting ball screens and not playing selfishly and we got a lead.”

The win marked the debut of Bruce Weber, who is the 24th head coach in K-State history, and just the 17th to win his first game as coach.

The Wildcats struggled early in the ball game, failing to find their stroke from long range. At the same time, K-State couldn’t seem to manage a lead. The Wildcats held a 6-2 lead early, and missed several chances to widen the gap. North Dakota came back to tie the game at 6 with 15:33 to play.

K-State used a 10-2 run to go ahead 18-10, and then slowly pushed ahead 24-15 with 9:45 left in the half. But, yet again, North Dakota fought back with a 10-2 run of its own to cut the Wildcats’ lead down to 26-25.

The Wildcats would assert themselves at that point though, outscoring North Dakota 10-2 the rest of the half to go ahead 36-27 at intermission.

The game really turned in the Wildcats’ favor with Rodriguez’s scoring spurt to start the second half. After North Dakota’s Jordan Allard hit a 3 to end the run, K-State turned in an 8-0 run to open up their lead to 52-34.

North Dakota coach Brian Jones said the Wildcats’ physical defense in the second half left his team fatigued on the court.

“I think our guys battled the first 20 minutes, they just really wore us out and got us into foul trouble the whole game,” he said. “I give their defense a lot of credit for their physicality and depth on the inside —  that really took a toll on us. A lot of shots were executed but at the end we still have to make the shot. That comes with just having fresh bodies out there with physicality and speed the entire 40 minutes.”

Weber agreed that his team wore down North Dakota. And he thought it was a combination of Rodriguez’s run and the Wildcats’ defense.

“The start of the second half is when you can break their spirit, which we did,” he said. “It was partially Angel’s help with making a couple shots and getting us going along with a couple of steals and then just good defense too. They shoot 9-for-33 in the second half, you can just see that we wore them down and did a better job.”

North Dakota got a small scoring spurt of its own to come as close as a 56-41 deficit, but K-State would outscore them 29-11 the rest of the way, including a 22-4 over the span of nearly nine minutes.

Past Rodriguez’s 13 points, Thomas Gipson had 13, Martavious Irving had 11 and Will Spradling finished with 10. DJ Johnson had just four points, but had a team-high nine rebounds, six, offensive, and four blocked shots.

The Wildcats will now shift their focus to the opening rounds of the NIT Season Tip-Off on Monday and Tuesday. K-State will open with a game against Lamar on Monday at 7 p.m. With a win they would play the winner of North Texas and Alabama-Huntsville. Two wins would send the team to New York City for the final two rounds.

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