Wildcats claim Diamond Head championship

By The Mercury

Kansas State went to the Big Island with the ultimate goal of bringing home a trophy — something the Wildcats hadn’t done since 2006.

Mission accomplished. K-State handily defeated Long Beach State 77-60 in the championship game of the Diamond Head Classic on Sunday night, winning its fifth game in a row and improving to 10-1 on the season.

“I’m really proud of my guys tonight,” K-State coach Frank Martin said. “They battled, they stayed the course against a really good team in Long Beach State. We played so well that the game wasn’t in doubt for a long period of time. I told the team before the game, `Heroes don’t win titles, teams do.’ We didn’t need a hero, we needed all hands on deck and that’s what we got, a total team effort.”

Rodney McGruder, the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, scored a career-high 28 points on 10-of-11 shooting to lead the way. Jamar Samuels, who joined McGruder on the All-Tournament Team, added 11 points and eight rebounds while Will Spradling tied his career high with 17 points on 4-of-7 shooting.

The Wildcats jumped on Long Beach State early and never took their foot off its throats. K-State hit its first four shots from the field to take a 9-2 lead. Long Beach State would knot it back up at 9-all, but then it was all Wildcats. K-State would outscore the 49ers 29-13 to build a 38-22 lead with 2:27 left in the first half and would never let them get closer than 10 points the rest of the game.

The Wildcats shot 50 percent from the floor, making 26-of-52 to go along with 20-of-26 (77 percent) from the free throw line.

“I think we’re playing pretty good offense,” Martin told the Associated Press. “We’re not a well-polished machine; we’re not awesome. We spend a lot of time on defense in the preseason, and now our offense gets better ... it happens every year. The one thing that happened tonight was we made shots. When you make shots, all of a sudden, your offense looks a whole lot better, and we did it against a real good team.”

A good team indeed. Long Beach State, now 7-6 on the year, entered Sunday’s game with the No. 1-ranked schedule in the country and an RPI of No. 7. The 49ers won at Pittsburgh when it was a top-10 team earlier this year, beat No. 15 Xavier to open the tournament, and lost road games to North Carolina and Kansas by a combined 14 points.

K-State held Long Beach State, a team known for good offense, to just 37 percent shooting. Casper Ware, last year’s Big West Player of the Year, made just 5-of-18 from the floor as he scored 17 points for the 49ers.

The Wildcats used balanced attacks throughout the three-game tournament, getting production from several guys off the bench.

K-State defeated Southern Illinois 83-58 to open the tournament on Thursday. Freshman Angel Rodriguez led the Wildcats with 17 points in the tournament opener. Freshman Adrian Diaz added nine points, while junior college transfer Jeremy Jones scored eight.

On Friday, Rodriguez once again led the charge with 16 points in the Wildcats’ 78-70 victory over the University of Texas El-Paso. Diaz again stepped up, scoring eight points, while Jones added eight as well.

On Sunday, Rodriguez was held scoreless and had just one assist. But others stepped up to fill the void.

In three games, Samuels was consistent for the Wildcats, averaging 11.7 points and 8.3 rebounds per game.

K-State returns home to play Howard on New Year’s Eve at 1 p.m. before opening conference play at KU on Jan. 4.

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