It took a full forty minutes but the Kansas State Wildcats (5-0) fought off a pesky Delaware Fighting Blue Hens (3-2) squad and overcame a 32-point performance by Devon Saddler to advance to the NIT Season Tip-Off championship game. It took all four of Will Spradling’s free throw’s with less than 24 seconds left to hold off a Saddler led Delaware squad, who caught fire.
“Obviously, it’s a good win. You have a chance to play in the championship game of the NIT, one of the most prestigious tournaments around, and especially pre-season,” coach Weber said following the game. “For us it’s a big step. We did not play pretty. I mean, that was pretty obvious. It had been so good for us at home and we had defended so well, made shots, and the games came easy. Now it didn’t come quite as easy. We missed a lot of easy shots, made some mistakes defensively.”
K-State struggled offensively with their lowest scoring output of the season at 66. The Wildcats shot 38 percent from the floor, 33 percent from three and 84 percent from the line. It wasn’t pretty but the ‘Cats got the job done and held off a high-energy Delaware squad coming off a big win.
Four players reached double-figures for K-State. Angel Rodriguez chipped in 12 points, five assist and four rebounds. Spradling finished with 12 points, seven assist, six rebounds and two steals, while Thomas Gipson finished in double-figures for the Wildcats with 12 points and six rebounds.
With a minute left to play, Saddler hit a tough three-point shot with Nino Williams hand in his face to pull the game within two. K-State ran back down the court and Williams answered with a jumper on the wing to stretch the lead to four. Saddler would soon answer with another three point shot at the top of the key with an outstretched hand in his face to keep Delaware in the game with 17 seconds left.
It was in Spradling’s hands to knock down free-throws and he answered the call to push the Wildcats to a three point win to reach the NIT Season Tip-Off championship game to face the No. 4 Michigan Wolverines (4-0), who beat the Pittsburgh Panthers (4-1) Wednesday night.
Michigan is a tough team led by second team preseason All American Trey Burke.
Saddler led all scorers with a game-high 32 points, also adding five rebounds and four assist. Jamelle Hagins was the only other player in double-figures for Delaware with 12 points and a game-high 15 rebounds.
The turning point in this game came in the second half when Hagins went to the bench with cramps. Shane Southwell hit two clutch three-point shots and K-State extended their lead to as much as 11 points before Saddler led Delaware back with his hot hand. It was a tough game for the ‘Cats and good game before playing a top-five program in Michigan.
“I think it’s great for our guys. When we got to K State, we kind of had to scramble with the schedule. We knew Florida was on there, at George Washington. One of our big goals obviously was to get here so we’d get some quality opponents, then we put Gonzaga into the mix,” coach Weber said. “The kids talked about it. If you want to be good, you have to play good teams and learn. You’re going to play good teams in the Big 12, there’s no doubt about it. I’m not sure for me, or just for the program, our kids, to play against top competition, it’s a valuable tool. Hopefully we’ll play a little more relaxed, keep playing hard, do the things we’ve done all year, and we’ll see what happens.”