There’s two ways to look at Kansas State’s win over Texas Tech on Tuesday.
On the one hand, the Wildcats got big performances off the bench when their three leading scorers weren’t very active on the box score. On the other hand, those three leading scorers just didn’t look good at all. And each one has played poorly at least once in the last three games.
As the Wildcats (15-6, 5-3 Big 12) go back on the road on Saturday to play West Virginia (12-9, 4-4), they know they will need more from Marcus Foster, Shane Southwell and Thomas Gipson going forward. Saturday’s game will tip off at 12:30 p.m. and will be shown on the Big 12 Network (Cox channel 6).
Over the last two games, it’s been Southwell who’s struggled the most, making poor decisions on offense and defense, and missing most of his shots along the way.
“I think that we need to help him, and he needs to work a little harder to get open shots,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “The teams scout you, and that happens in any league. Some of the things we did early where he got open, now they’re taking that away. He has to let the game come. It would be nice if Shane made shots, it would be nice if Marcus made shots, it would be nice if they all made shots.
“The big thing is the next guy on the bench. If we are going to have long-term success, we’re going to need everyone to play well.”
That’s what the Wildcats had on Tuesday, getting 13 points from Nino Williams to lead a 25-point scoring effort off the bench.
But the biggest performances came from the two starters who average less than 10 points per game for K-State — Will Spradling and Wesley Iwundu.
Iwundu scored 11, and Spradling had his third straight quality game for the Wildcats, finishing with 17 points.
“If (Spradling) could make two 3-pointers a game, a couple of pull-ups, some free throws, get double digits, now he would become more of a threat,” Weber said. “He moves better without the basketball, so people would start chasing him like they did with Rodney (McGruder). That would help Marcus and Shane to get open and they wouldn’t have to worry about him.”
Spradling said he’s taken it upon himself to be more assertive in the last two games, especially at times when his team most needed a basket.
At Iowa State, Spradling made three straight 3’s, before passing up on a wide-open one to tie the game. In that situation, Weber said Spradling was looking to be smart and run clock while setting up a play and a good look at the basket. But Weber said he wants Spradling to remain aggressive and ready to take any shot he gets.
“I think that I’m showing more confidence, and playing more relaxed,” Spradling said. “Coach Weber really helped me out with that last game with giving me the ball at the end of the shot clock. It allowed me to make plays and run plays for me to put myself in a good position.”
The Wildcats will be looking for Spradling to continue his hot streak at West Virginia this weekend as they look to get the Big 12 road win that’s been elusive in the last three attempts.
A year ago, it was Southwell that saved the day for the Wildcats. Southwell made two free throws with 21 seconds left and then blocked a game-winning layup attempt by Gary Browne with one second left.
Southwell finished with, at that time, a season-high 17 points after scoring in double figures just twice during non-conference play. Southwell went on to be the Wildcats’ third-leading scorer and scored double digits in seven Big 12 games.
“It was a really memorable moment for me,” Southwell said. “It was maybe a top-5 best (career) moment for me. It was a really good moment for me in terms on making the free throws and getting the block.”
The Wildcats handled the Mountaineers earlier this season when they played them in Manhattan, getting a pair of 20-point performances from Southwell and Gipson. It’s been since then that Southwell has struggled, but it’s hard for the senior to pinpoint exactly what’s been responsible.
“I watched the (last) game, I took a lot of hard shots because of the shot clock,” he said. “I didn’t get to the lane at all, Nino (Williams) played really well, so it kind of cut down my minutes. Also when I looked at this game, my legs were not really there.
“I just really played bad, but thankfully the team made up for me, Thomas, and Marcus, really. I think that we will be fine, and I think that I will be fine.”
After Saturday’s game, the Wildcats will have the following week clear of games before resuming with Texas at home the following Saturday. Before they get to that bye week period, Weber said they have a chance to keep themselves in the upper half of the league and build upon their postseason resume if they win at West Virginia.
“We were not very pretty at TCU, but we won that game,” he said. “Obviously, we weren’t that good with that stretch against Kansas. I thought with the game against Texas, we were right there, and at Iowa State we played good enough to win. Now we have to see if we can do those same things and play with that same energy, play together, and play a little smarter and a little better.”