Brian Goodman is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Round of 64 NCAA Tournament game between #4 Kansas State and #12 La Salle in Kansas City.
Three Key Takeaways:
- Explorers hang on after furious Kansas State comeback. La Salle hit their first three-pointer to start the game and used a balanced attack to race out to a 15-4 lead six minutes into the game. Kansas State’s offense eventually got out of neutral, but the Explorers had an answer seemingly every time and went into the locker room with a 44-26 lead. So what changed at the break? After an ineffective first half, Thomas Gipson was pulled out of the lineup and replaced with Jordan Henriquez, a more active big man than the bulkier Gipson. Henriquez made an instant impact, collecting offensive rebounds, freeing Rodney McGruder and Shane Southwell with screens and going up strong whenever he had the ball close to the hoop. On defense, he was just as controlling, swatting shots and forcing La Salle to change angles mid-drive, and the Wildcats erased the Explorers’ 18-point lead in 13 minutes. The Wildcats led late in the game until …
- The Wildcats unraveled in the final thirty seconds. While going up for a rebound, Henriquez committed a tough but decisive foul, going over Jerrell Wright’s back. Wright calmly buried both free throw attempts in front of a hostile backdrop to retake the lead, and Henriquez missed a close look on the next possession. After fouling again, Wright hit one of two free throws to give Kansas State one last shot. La Salle forced Angel Rodriguez to drive awkwardly along the baseline and missed the close look, though Weber tried to call timeout.
- Contrary to the halftime deficit, Kansas State showed signs of life late in the first half. The Wildcats had a disappointing first half, but Weber’s team did score 15 points in the final 7:30 in the first half, led by Shane Southwell’s sharp outside shooting. Getting stops was the issue, as Ramon Galloway, Sam Mills and Jerrell Wright kept answering. Fortunately, that late offensive efficiency carried the wave in the second half, but to say that a comeback came out of nowhere would be to lose sight of the fact that it could have easily been a much steeper mountain to climb for Kansas State.
Star of the Game: Jerrell Wright – 21 points, 6-of-6 FG, 9-0f-10 FT, eight rebounds, zero turnovers. Wright gave Kansas State’s defense headaches throughout the first half, playing a vital important in the Explorers’ hot start. Though Wright isn’t immune to criticism in dissecting the Wildcats’ comeback, he’s also deserving of plenty of credit for hitting three crucial free throws in a hostile environment to propel La Salle to a third game later this weekend. Credit also goes to Jordan Henriquez, whose double-double in the losing effort gave Kansas State every chance it needed.