The story of Monday night’s game with West Virginia was supposed to be about the return of Bob Huggins to Bramlage Coliseum.
Instead, Kansas State used a big performance from Will Spradling and 26 points off the bench to ease past the Mountaineers 71-61 on Monday.
The 13th-ranked Wildcats welcomed Huggins back into his one-year home with a big run that blew the game open in the first half and another run that essentially put it away in the second half.
“I really like this place,” said Huggins, who was greeted with a cheer from K-State fans. “I like the people. The people here have been wonderful. It’s nice to see people you haven’t seen in a while, but at the end of the day, it’s a business trip. We were supposed to win, we didn’t.”
There the whole way was Spradling, tying his career high in points with a 19-point effort, including a 7 for 7 night at the foul line.
It was those shots, the junior said, that helped him get going.
“When you get to the free-throw line that many times, that gets you into the biggest rhythm out of anything,” he said. “You see it go through the net and that gives you confidence right there, and a lot of my shots off the dribble came right from that spot. I was basically shooting free throws all night.”
K-State (21-5, 10-3 Big 12) opened the second half with a 10-2 run that was capped by a technical foul against Huggins to go ahead 43-22. West Virginia pushed its way back into the game with a 7-0 run, and stayed within a 14- to 16-point range until freshman guard Eron Harris was called for a technical and personal foul after making contact with Spradling. The two fouls resulted in a four-point swing for the Wildcats.
Huggins said his team didn’t do much to contain Spradling throughout the game.
“We had freshmen on him and they didn’t do a very good job,” he said. “He’s a good player. You give him open shots and he’s going to make them.”
Spradling knocked down all four free throws to put the Wildcats ahead 58-40 with 9:24 to play. The Wildcats pushed their lead to 20 points with 3:18 left, but the Mountaineers (13-13, 6-7) finished the game on a 10-0 run.
While Spradling’s performance was key for the Wildcats, Nino Williams scored 13 points and had five rebounds off the bench. Thomas Gipson scored 11 points and added four boards.
Williams was thrust into the lineup for much of the game because Shane Southwell spent much of the night in foul trouble and was limited to just 10 minutes.
K-State coach Bruce Weber said Williams’ night was key with Southwell on the bench.
“I’ve talked a lot about having a great attitude whether you play one minute, no minutes or 28 minutes,” he said. “Nino has had some struggles and hasn’t gotten a lot of minutes, he got his opportunity and took advantage of it.”
Williams scored his points on 6-of-8 shooting in 23 minutes in the floor, his most in Big 12 play. He said he hasn’t grown impatient or been motivated to play any harder by Southwell taking his spot in the starting lineup.
“(Weber) told the guys who haven’t been playing much in conference play to keep a good attitude, you’re going to get an opportunity,” he said. “Shane got in foul trouble and I just tried to play hard and do the little things.”
After a tight opening to the game, the Wildcats took control of the game with a 12-0 run to push ahead 18-4 with 11:27 to play. West Virginia got no closer than 12 points for the remainder of the first half, as K-State led by as much as 18 points with 1:21 left to play in the half. West Virginia got five points from Jabarie Hinds in the last minute of the half to cut the deficit to 33-20.
Gipson led the Wildcats with nine points in the first half, while Spradling had eight.
West Virginia made just 7 of 23 shots in the first half, including 1 of 8 from the perimeter, making it tough for them to stay in the game.
“What’s frustrating is that we couldn’t make a damn shot,” Huggins said.
K-State’s leading scorers got into the action, but were mostly limited. Rodney McGruder had 10 points on 3-of-10 shooting, while Angel Rodriguez finished with 11 points, seven assists and six turnovers. As a team, the Wildcats committed 18 turnovers.
The game was also marred by fouls on both sides, as K-State was charged with 28 and West Virginia 21. The teams combined to commit more fouls (49) than they made field goals (40) and free throws (42).
Weber said much of that had to do with what West Virginia was doing defensively.
“Coach Huggins’ teams play great defense,” he said. “They’re very physical, and try to disrupt you. We take a lot of pride in our defense, and it was a very, very hard game to officiate. I thought the officials managed it pretty well for the most part.”
Henriquez’s grandmother dies
Weber said after the game that Henriquez was playing after learning of his grandmother’s passing away on Sunday night.
He said it was unexpected and they left the decision to play up Henriquez. He played 18 minutes and finished with two points, seven rebounds and four blocks.
“He wanted to play the game, and you’ve got to give some credit to him, he played pretty focused, ” Weber said. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.”
Weber said Henriquez will leave to be with his family today, and his status for this Saturday’s game at Texas is undetermined.