The No. 9 K-State Wildcats took care of business on Senior Night in Bramlage Coliseum last night, disposing of TCU by a final score of 79-68. The win, which was the 99th in the careers of seniors Jordan Henriquez, Rodney McGruder and Martavious Irving, puts K-State one game away from a Big 12 title.
“We’re playing for a championship. That’s been our goal all season, that’s why you do it,” said first-year head coach Bruce Weber. “To be honest, early on, with the way we were playing, I didn’t think we’d have a chance to get that far.”
Weber’s team has the chance to show how wrong he was on Saturday when they travel to Stillwater, Okla., to take on Oklahoma State for a share of the conference title. The Wildcats beat the No. 13 Cowboys 73-67 on Jan. 5 in Bramlage.
“Just to win 25 games, I’m so proud of the whole team,” Weber said. “Chemistry is so important, and we have great chemistry in the locker room. Now, the only question is, do they want more?”
Tuesday’s victory was the last time the three seniors would play in front of their home crowd in Bramlage. After leading his team in his trademark tunnel dance for the final time, Irving, a guard, tallied 15 points and five assists. After bending down to kiss the Powercat logo at half-court before checking out with 30 seconds left, he addressed the fans in a post-game ceremony.
“I just want to thank all you guys, you’re the best sixth man in the country,” Irving said. “Hopefully we can get as many people as we can to Kansas City for the Big 12 tournament and then the NCAA tournament.”
The Wildcats are currently projected by ESPN as a No. 3 seed in the Midwest region, landing them at the Sprint Center in Kansas City for the opening weekend. It was there that K-State upset then-No. 7 Florida a few days before Christmas.
Guard Rodney McGruder finished with 13 points and five assists, including two dunks that brought the crowd to their feet. After the game, he said he couldn’t have asked for a better place to play and call home than K-State, but he added that he wasn’t satisfied.
“We have to get back after it. These next two practices will be big,” McGruder said. “We need to get back to the way we play basketball. That definitely wasn’t our most impressive win.”
After controlling the tempo in the first half and jumping out to a 15-point lead at halftime, the Wildcats struggled early in the second period when the Horned Frogs switched to a zone defense. TCU cut the lead to as little as 5 in the first six minutes of the second half before K-State’s offense came back to life.
Sophomore forward Thomas Gipson, who saw 9 of his 11 points come in the second half, scored on back-to-back possessions. Then Irving drove to the lane and kicked the ball out to sophomore point guard Angel Rodriguez for a three. After Irving hit a three of his own, Rodriguez connected from deep again, forcing TCU to call a timeout. The Wildcats never looked back after that, coasting to an 11-point win.
Junior guard Will Spradling sat out with a bruised sternum suffered in last week’s win over Texas. Weber said Spradling’s status is monitored daily, and he hopes he will be ready for Saturday’s matchup.
“It’s just something we need to rehab and hope his body mends itself,” Weber said. “We’ve got that great new facility with the underwater treadmill, and he will be doing that tomorrow. If he isn’t ready to play, we’ll just have to deal with that. These guys have been playing pretty well.”
Senior center Jordan Henriquez, whose playing time in the first half was limited after he found himself in early foul trouble, did not have an impressive night statistically in his final home game. He finished with five rebounds and no points, but he told fans after the game that he appreciated them.
“I’m going to miss the Octagon of Doom,” he said. “K-State’s going to be in my heart forever.”
K-State travels to Stillwater on Saturday to take on the Cowboys of Oklahoma State with a chance to clinch at least a share of the Big 12 regular season title. Tipoff is scheduled for 12:30 p.m.