Dec. 22, 2011
By Tom Weber
HONOLULU, Hawaii - Kansas State busted out of a season-long shooting slump from 3-point range, hitting 9-of-14 from outside the arc to beat a cold-shooting Southern Illinois team, 83-58, on Thursday in the opening round of the Diamond Head Classic.
The Wildcats (8-1) came into the game shooting just 27 percent from downtown, but they worked the ball inside-out, and Angel Rodriguez was the beneficiary, making 5-of-6 tries from 3-point to lead the team with 17 points. The freshman was 4-for-24 entering the game.
"I've never been concerned with some of the guys missing shots," said KSU head coach Frank Martin. "We've had the right ones shooting it, it just hasn't gone in."
Meanwhile, the Salukis (3-6) really struggled to knock down shots against an aggressive Kansas State defense. Southern finished at 29 percent from the field and 23 percent from 3-point.
"That's one of the most physical teams I've seen," said head coach Chris Lowery. "Their size, their athleticism and their interior toughness is very, very good."
The Salukis were especially prone to foul trouble. Starting center Davante Drinkard took a seat one minute into the game after being whistled for two fouls. The team's top scorer and rebounder, Mamadou Seck, joined him shortly thereafter with his second foul. He played only 14 minutes, scoring five points and grabbing five rebounds.
"We had a game plan for Seck in the first half, and he gets those two fouls," Lowery said. "He really struggled today. Their physicality really shook him."
The game was competitive in many respects. Southern's defense, which allowed an opponent to score 65 points for the first time this season, forced KSU into a season-high 19 turnovers. The Salukis were also aggressive on the glass, grabbing 18 offensive rebounds. They just couldn't overcome a 5-for-22 shooting performance from outside the arc.
"We were so conscious of not turning it over that we missed some wide-open shots," Lowery said. "You have to make those shots against (Kansas State), because they aren't giving you very many opportunities."
Trailing by 19 at the half, Southern cut the deficit to 53-40 on a pair of Drinkard free throws with 13:32 remaining in the game. Kansas State answered with a 22-5 run.
"We know we can get better from this," Lowery said. "We saw a lot of potential in everything we did today, but that was a really good team we saw. They're well-coached. They didn't waver in the things they are going to do. They were smashmouth all the way."
Jeff Early and Justin Bocot were the only SIU players to reach double figures, each scoring 10 points. Bocot made his first appearance since Nov. 25, after the University announced earlier in the day that it had cleared him to play following the investigation of an off-campus incident.
For the first time this season, the Salukis played with a full complement of players. The key now, according to Lowery, is to start whittling down the 13-man rotation.
"We have to bounce back and stay positive," he said. "We're going to have a heckuva opportunity to get a win tomorrow against another BCS team."
The Salukis will play Clemson (6-5) on Friday at 2 p.m. CT. The game will be televised on ESPNU.