Kansas State topples No. 23 Alabama

Jordan Henriquez and Angel Rodriguez checked into the game when Kansas State was scuffling, the ball clanking off the rim every time it went up and Alabama slowly pulling away.

The duo provided the spark the Wildcats needed.

Henriquez scored a career-high 17 points, Rodriguez added a career-best 13 and Kansas State rallied from a slow start to beat the No. 23 Crimson Tide 71-58 on Saturday night.

”We talked about attacking their zone. We didn’t do a very good job early in the game,” Kansas State coach Frank Martin said. ”We just had to make some shots. We moved the ball better, got that zone real spread out. Angel drove it and Jordan did what we talked about, the back side coming open.”

It wasn’t just the scoring, though, but how they did it. Rodriquez, the freshman guard, kept finding his 7-foot center inside for easy baskets, racking up six of his seven assists by halftime.

”It was just me being comfortable,” Henriquez said. ”I was kind of in a rush and that’s what coach gets on me a lot, taking my time and letting the game come to me.”

Jamar Samuels added 14 points for the Wildcats (7-1), who used a 19-6 run midway through the second half to avoid going to overtime for the third consecutive game. Kansas State lost to West Virginia in two extra sessions last week and needed overtime to beat North Florida last Sunday.

”Kansas State came out tonight and in the second half did a really great job of attacking our pressure,” Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. ”They got out in transition, they got in rhythm in the second half. They got a spurt that took it out to about 10, and we had a tough time maintaining the discipline you have to have from a defensive standpoint.”

JaMychal Green scored 20 points for Alabama (8-3), which has lost three of four.

Trevor Releford, who grew up in suburban Kansas City and attended Bishop Miege High School, added 14 points for the Crimson Tide in a homecoming that would have been much more memorable had they been as stingy over the final 30 minutes as they were over the first 10.

The Wildcats started 2 of 18 from the field, struggling against Alabama’s tenacious, trapping half-court defense. They only trailed by seven, though, when they finally figured out how to get open shots along the baseline, and that opened up holes elsewhere.

”I know it looks like we just walk out there and roll the ball out sometimes,” Martin said, ”but there is actually some serious structure to what we do. And they were in tune with it.”

Kansas State was still clinging to a 38-37 lead with just more than 13 minutes left when Samuels hit a three-pointer off a feed from Rodriguez, one of his career-best seven assists. Shane Southwell scored moments later, Samuels added a pair of free throws and Rodriguez scored after a nifty behind-the-back move that got him open in the lane to make it 49-39 with less than 10 minutes to play.

The lead swelled to 61-45 when Henriquez scored back-to-back baskets and Thomas Gipson added a tough bucket in the paint. The Crimson Tide never got close the rest of the way.

Kansas State sealed the game with free throws down the stretch.

”We got some opportunities to put some shots up,” Releford said. ”A lot of them went down, some of them didn’t.”

The game matched a pair of head coaches in Grant and Martin who were teammates at Miami (Fla.) Senior High School, where they met as sophomores. In fact, Grant is the godfather of Martin’s eldest child, Brandon, and they remain good friends.

That doesn’t mean they wanted to win any less than usual.

Both coaches spent the majority of the game riding the officials, riding their own players — more or less yelling at anyone within earshot — and coaching with the passion of March in mid-December.

Alabama, one of the nation’s best defensive teams, held the Wildcats to two field goals over the first 10 minutes, slowly building a meager lead. Tony Mitchell’s first basket with 9:08 left in the half made it 15-8, the Crimson Tide’s biggest lead of the game.

The Wildcats still trailed 17-12 with less than five minutes left when Martavious Irving scored and Rodriguez fed Henriquez for an easy dunk, starting a 14-7 run to end the half. Henriquez’s bucket with 18 seconds remaining allowed Kansas State to take a 26-24 lead into the break.

The game was being played at a pace that favored Grant’s Crimson Tide, who came in allowing an average of just more than 55 points per game — 11th-best in the nation. But the Wildcats heated up in the second half, blowing past that number with 7 1/2 minutes left.

”We might not be perfect,” Martin said, ”but we’re not taking a backseat to anybody either.”