January 19, 2008

Cats off and running with win over A&M

Most times, a win is a win, but a 21-point decimation of a top-10 team is something completely different. Sure Kansas State's 75�"54 pounding of No. 9 Texas A&M meant the school's first 2-0 start to conference play in 15 years, but the Wildcats' most recent victory was something bigger than any streak or statistic. Head coach Frank Martin and the team that was once said to be too young to properly utilize a seemingly bottomless pool of talent now looks to be all grown up, and Saturday's victory put the nation on notice.

"It's a coming of age thing," said K-State freshman Michael Beasley, who led all scorers with 21 points despite being in foul trouble for most of the game's first half. "We're not freshman anymore. We have big-time college wins under our belt. We're playing together as a team."

K-State shot nearly 52 percent in its 12th win of the season, while breaking the 75-point barrier for an eighth consecutive game, but perhaps most impressive Saturday was the Wildcats' defensive effort, which held A&M to just five field goals in the second half.

"Coming into this game, Coach told us that we had to play good defense against these guys, because they take good shots," said senior Clent Stewart, who was one of three Wildcats to finish the game in double figures. "We knew coming in that we would have to buckle down against them to win this game. That's what we did."

Texas A&M went without a field goal for an 11-minute stretch in the second half, allowing K-State to step on the accelerator. The Wildcats outscored the Aggies 40-21 in the final 20 minutes of the contest, quickly turning what once looked to be a nailbiter into a decisive victory.

"I don't know how we did that, there were guys talking out there," said K-State freshman Bill Walker of his team's second-half explosion. "That's really all I can say about it. We have been doing the principles for a long time, but it was just a matter of getting out there and doing what Coach says. This should be convincing."

Beasley picked up his third personal foul less than one minute into the second half, and Martin's unconventional decision to leave his star on the court despite the fouls paid dividends as the freshman's 12-point second-period performance provided just the spark K-State needed to close out A&M in convincing fashion.

"I'm stubborn," Martin said of his choice to keep Beasley on the court despite his foul trouble. "Throughout my whole high school career if someone picked up two fouls in the first half, they were done. It's just the way I've always done it. I did that early in the year against George Mason. For those of you that remember, we were up 20-15 when he picked up his second foul, and I was stubborn because that's the way I've always done it. I didn't play him again. We ended up getting down by nine at one point. It's part of my growth and trust in our players. More importantly, it's a credit to Mike that he continued to play at a high level and not commit any stupid or silly fouls."

A Beasley layup midway through the second half ignited a 13-1 run that stretched K-State's lead from one to 13 in what seemed like a heartbeat, all but slamming the door on the Aggies.

"Basketball is a game of runs," Stewart said. "Being able to withstand a team's run and make your own run is a big key to the game."

After picking up a pair of fouls in the game's first four minutes, playing time was limited for Beasley, who managed eight points in just nine first-half minutes. But even with its brightest star dimmed by foul trouble, K-State never faded. Despite struggling mightily from the floor in the half's early going, the Wildcats stayed afloat throughout the contest's first frame, and led 35-33 at the halftime break, thanks in large part to four 3-point buckets from Walker.

"I work on (shooting 3s) enough, so it was bound to surface," said Walker who went 5 for 10 from deep in a 19-point performance Saturday. "I was tired of waiting on it. Today, it just showed up. I shoot like that every day in practice."

Collectively, K-State was 5 for 12 from 3-point range in the opening half, using what was thought to be a team weakness to their advantage, overcoming a 17-12 rebound deficit and the absence of Beasley's low-post presence to claim a slim halftime lead, putting a certain spring in the Wildcats' step.

"Now we have it," said Walker of his team's uncharacteristically accurate 45�"percent 3-point shooting. "We can find our shots easier now."

Saturday's victory moves the Wildcats to 2-0 in Big 12 play and 12-4 on the season, while A&M fell to 15-3 and 1-2.

Stewart scored 10, while fellow K-State guards Jacob Pullen and Blake Young each chipped in eight points in Saturday's win, while Texas A&M guard Josh Carter led the Aggies' offensive charge, registering 13 points in the contest.

K-State will look to make it three straight Big 12 wins Wednesday, when they head west for a road showdown with Big 12 foe Colorado.

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