KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Never fond of conference tournaments to begin with, this sure didn’t change Frank Martin’s mind.
Apparently hitting their peak just in time for the postseason, Martin’s Kansas State Wildcats cruised into the Big 12 tournament after winning four of their last five. They even had a one-point win at Baylor.
But with Perry Jones III scoring a career-high 31 points, the Bears roared to a nine-point halftime lead and cruised to a 82-74 victory in their first game.
Now Kansas State (21-10), can only wait Sunday to see if they get picked as an at-large entry in the NCAA tournament.
“Now we’ve got to cross our fingers. We’ve put our fate in someone else’s hands,” said Martin. “We’ve got to cross our fingers and hope that what we’ve done is enough and we’re given an opportunity. I told the team, ‘If we are given an opportunity — I think we’re very much deserving of an opportunity — we get one more chance to get it right. If we don’t get it right, then the season will be over.”
The defense was especially brutal against the 6-11 Jones. He went 8 for 8 in the first half and wound up with 11 rebounds for his eighth double-double.
“They set the tone. They came after us and knocked us down and we really never punched back,” said Martin. “That was unfortunate because we’d come a long way in that department this year. For us to revert to that is really frustrating.”
The coach was almost shocked to see his team slip back to bad habits he thought were taken care of in December.
“Was I surprised? Yes. We finished the year off playing well. Our practices were enthusiastic. Guys were excited about having a chance to come here and make a run in the Big 12. That’s why it’s disappointing today.”
Jones was at a loss to explain his big game.
“I guess I was just in the zone today,” he said. “Just being aggressive and more assertive.”
Martin was careful not to diminish the Bears’ good play.
“We were so bad defensively today,” he said. “Baylor was good. They’re a heck of a basketball team. I don’t want to take away from them, their moment, because they won the game. But defensively, we were so selfish today. We didn’t help each other.”
Brady Heslip had 15 points and Pierre Jackson added 13 points and eight assists for Baylor, which shot a sizzling 57 percent while debuting bright, fluorescent yellow uniforms.
Jordan Henriquez, often left unattended in the middle of Baylor’s zone defense, scored a career-high 22 points for Kansas State, which had split with Baylor in the regular season. The 6-11 Henriquez gives the Wildcats something to look forward to in the NCAA tournament and next year as well.
“I’m not into individual performances,” said Martin. “But his growth as a player, his consistency as of late was awesome.”
McGruder had 14 points for Kansas State and Angel Rodriguez had 12.
– Associated Press –