The first step has been taken.
Normally, against a 15 seed like North Texas that’s not saying a whole lot. That’s a game the favorite should just about always win in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. But on this Thursday, a win in that scenario was worth bragging about.
Especially when you consider the way Kansas State beat North Texas.
While other high seeds across the country saw their seasons end abruptly at the hands of double-digit seeds, the Wildcats blew out the Mean Green. Everyone played, and the last few minutes at the Ford Center were a party.
It was exactly what freshman center Jordan Henriquez-Roberts was hoping for.
“We envisioned this,” he said. “We had a few days to prepare for North Texas so we went over their stuff well in practice and we did the same thing on the court. It was a really good day for us.”
Aside from the game’s opening moments, in which K-State fell behind 8-7, there truly was little to complain about.
But the slow start was practically unavoidable. Curtis Kelly, Jamar Samuels and Denis Clemente had never played in the NCAA Tournament with K-State before. The Wildcats freshmen had no idea what it would be like.
They were also delayed 45 minutes from taking the court, because BYU and Florida took two overtimes to decide a winner. During the wait, they watched footage of Notre Dame losing and Villanova being pushed to overtime. Seeing that kind of stuff would mess with anyone before a game.
“I didn’t think we were going to get off to such a slow start at the beginning,” Kelly said. “I thought we were going to jump on them early. But teams need to get the jitters out and let the game take its course. That’s when we calmed down and got after them.”
K-State got after the Mean Green with defense. Its big men blocked 10 shots by game’s end and held North Texas to making only 20.8 percent of its shots in the first half.
That led to several transition points for Clemente (17) Jacob Pullen (15) and Kelly (15). The fast pace, combined with foul trouble, got lots of players into the game.
In that style of game, K-State was way too much for North Texas to handle.
“All of that offense, it came from stops,” Pullen said. “That’s why I say we’ve always just got to keep defending. I don’t worry about our offense much because even when we miss shots we do a great job of offensive rebounding. We have athletic bigs. As long as we can guard teams and defend and make them play our style, we can control the way the game is going to be.”
Emptying the notebook:
– If scoring 21 points and grabbing nine rebounds in a single half against Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Tournament was the high point of Jamar Samuels’ season, then Thursday was the low point.
The Wildcats’ sixth man scored two points, grabbed two rebounds and had an overall miserable day. Afterward, he said he was happy K-State won, but will be ready to redeem himself against BYU.
– Jordan Henriquez-Roberts looked solid playing in relief of several Wildcats big men on Thursday. The freshman center grabbed six rebounds, and was on the court when K-State started to pull away in the first half.
– Pullen injured both his elbow and tailbone in the second half, and had to be helped off the floor. He took an X-Ray, but said he felt fine after the game. Both he and K-State coach Frank Martin said he would be good to go against BYU.
– Martin was displeased to see his team rack up 25 fouls. To him, that’s the worst kind of defense a team can play.
“We just can’t foul,” Martin said. “We fouled too much tonight. Too many bumps, hand checks. Just silly fouls. If we put BYU on the line like that, they’re not going to miss free throws.”
Fouling was a problem K-State experienced earlier in the year.
“We stopped doing that, then all of a sudden we started doing it again today,” Martin said.
Player of the game: Curtis Kelly made a big impact on both ends of the court. The junior forward blocked four shots and scored 15 points. And he only played 17 minutes. Had he avoided foul trouble, he would have done much, much more. When he came in during the second half to end a brief North Texas run, the Mean Green were helpless to stop him.
Play of the game: After falling hard on the hardwood in the second half, Jacob Pullen was in so much pain he had to be helped off the court. But he returned to the court before long and said he felt OK after the game. Disaster averted.
Do this again: Denis Clemente took just the right amount of risks and was confident in every decision he made.
Try to avoid: Jamar Samuels will need to score more than two points against BYU.
Bottom line: K-State is on to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years. There are plenty of other teams out there that wish they could say the same. Now they need to refocus and get ready for Jimmer Fredette and BYU.