Meet Shane Southwell.
Sure, the junior played in 32 games a year ago, even starting twice. But it wasn’t until this season under first-year Kansas State head coach Bruce Weber that Southwell’s true potential has started to shine through.
During his first two years at K-State, Southwell spent more time on the bench, often the focus of former coach Frank Martin’s ire. Warranted or not, Southwell didn’t respond, averaging just 3.2 points per game a year ago and just 1.8 points a game as a freshman.
Kansas coach Bill Self was a first-hand witness Tuesday night of Southwell’s evolution for the 11th-ranked Wildcats.
The Harlem native scored a game-high 19 points and made 5 of 11 from behind the arc in K-State’s 59-55 loss at home to the third-ranked Jayhawks that snapped an eight-game winning streak.
“I think he would have to get my vote for the most improved player in our league,” Self said. “Last year, if you remember, we played triangle-and-two and the guy he we didn’t guard was Shane, and he didn’t even look at the basket.
“And this year… He was probably their best offensive threat tonight.”
At times, he was the Wildcats’ only offensive threat, especially from long range. Excluding Southwell, the Wildcats were just 2 for 19 on 3-pointers. He scored nine points in the first half — including a big 3-pointer to give K-State a 19-18 lead with 6:23 to play before halftime - and then scored 10 in the second.
“He’s done a job and spreads the defense and made some 3s,” Weber said. “It’s tough for forwards to guard him. He’s a very smart player and he knows when people penetrate, his man is sinking down on the help and he’s able to rotate to different spots.
“He just has a good sense of how to play the game. It’s been very positive, but we have to get some other guys too.”
Southwell’s emergence, especially in a game like Tuesday’s against Kansas, is key for the Wildcats going forward as they try to find someone to take pressure off of their leading scorer Rodney McGruder. For the season, Southwell is averaging 8.1 points per game.
Sophomore guard Angel Rodriguez scored all 12 of his points in the first half and then McGruder scored 11 of his 13 in the second. Will Spradling was held scoreless. Weber used Adrian Diaz in the first half, but he was ineffective and then turned to Nino Williams in the second, but he too, didn’t factor into the game.
“Nino has gotten into a little bit of a hole and we need him to give us something,” Weber said. “We went with AD in the first half, but he has to be stronger and better. He had a couple good games.
“And then Will — it would have been nice for him to make a couple shots for us. You thought after the other night… He had the first shot of the game and you can’t get a better look than that.”
Yet, even without the supporting cast offering up much support, there was Southwell keeping the Wildcats close.
“Southwell, we said he could shoot, but if he makes one, that’s OK, if he makes two, we’ll start guarding him,” Self said. “We didn’t anticipate him making five, though.”
As good as Southwell was Tuesday, he thought he could have had even more.
“I’m very comfortable with how I’m playing in the offense, in the motion,” said Southwell, who also grabbed seven rebounds. “Motion is better when you have four wing players, or four players that can step out and make plays. I went 5 for 11 from 3 and I think I could have followed through better on three of them.”
K-State will look to start a new winning streak on Saturday when the Wildcats travel to Ames, Iowa to face the Cyclones at 12:30 p.m., televised on the Big 12 Network (Ch. 7).