Kansas State holds off Delaware in NIT Season Tip-Off Tournament at the Garden
All that Kansas State and its coach ask for is a shot. The players want a shot at playing their game without someone screaming at them and new coach Bruce Weber wants a shot at showing he knows how to take a team to big heights, the way he took Illinois to the 2005 NCAA final.
Sometimes it requires a little give and take, such as when Weber first took the job this past March and convinced his former Illinois player and current Nets star Deron Williams to call current Kansas State point guard Angel Rodriguez and persuade the kid to give the coach a shot.
So far, so good. The Wildcats are 5-0, having held off Delaware, 66-63, in a semifinal of the NIT Season Tip-Off Tournament at the Garden. That wasn't easy, given the major performance by Devon Saddler, a guard for the mid-major team, who scored 32 points. It helped Kansas State, too, that Delaware's big rebounder, Jamelle Hagins, missed much of the second half because of leg cramps.
Still, it was Kansas State that reached the tournament final Friday against Michigan, a 67-62 winner over Pittsburgh in the other semifinal. Kansas State had enough when it counted, especially in the final 22.3 seconds, when Will Spradling made all four of his free throws to build on a two-point lead.
"Coach told us we needed a close game," Spradling said. Delaware gave them more than they needed or wanted. "They're a great ballclub. They definitely are tough," Weber said. "Saddler, the plays he made down the stretch, that was big time."
Delaware shared the feelings of hundreds of fellow holiday tourists taking in the sights of Manhattan. The team posted video of the trip on its website. Saddler said on Tuesday, "I really didn't sleep last night." He added that he felt like a kid "getting his first lollipop, or something like that."
A rival of Hofstra in the Colonial Athletic Association, Delaware reached the NIT Tip-Off semifinals by beating Virginia -- the Blue Hens' first win over an ACC team in 50 years.
Wednesday night was historic for Kansas State: its first-ever win at the Garden, in Deron Williams' new hometown. "What can I tell you? He's somebody I look up to," said Rodriguez, who had 12 points and five assists. "It meant a lot for him to call me. I just wish we were friends or something. But it's a privilege, playing in Madison Square Garden. We came here to prove a point."
And to give themselves a shot.