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Cats Play to No. 3 Ranking

By Mark Janssen

The calendar said it was still only a November fall day, but a Big 12 Conference game atmosphere came to Bramlage Coliseum Tuesday afternoon in what would be a 73-57 Kansas State victory over No. 24 Virginia Tech.
 
It was a sophomore-freshman edition of the Wildcats that were the collective stars against the Hokies, as Jacob Pullen played just two minutes in the first half, and 14 in the game. For the game, rookies and sophs accounted for 45 of KSU's 73 points.
To Pullen, it wasn't a big deal that he picked up the two, and then three, early fouls: "There are days in practice where I'm not in a drill, but Frank won't let them stop until they get it right. I trust my guys and they were able to keep the lead and continue to fight."
 
Rodney McGruder added, "We practice like Jake's not going to be in the game. We know we have to be ready for anything that comes our way." 
 
K-State saw a 30-29 halftime lead turn into a 40-38 deficit at the 14:05 mark, but then due to dominating board play, turned it on for a 28-9 flurry with McGruder and Martavious Irving supplying nine points each during the run.
 
But it was more than the points that pleased Martin: "Martavious goes out and guards his tail off against arguably the best guard in the ACC (Malcolm Delaney), and Rodney comes out and makes plays that helped us win. Rodney made the extra-effort plays on the glass."
 
No Wildcat scored more than 13 - Pullen, Jamar Samuels and McGruder - while Jordan Henriquez-Roberts added 10. Total the scoring up, and 60 of the 73 came from returning players.
 
"We just played against five grown men out there," said Martin in praise of his young Wildcats.
 
It was a game where, at times, Martin said, "We reverted to the lessons we learned last year. That was a good basketball team we just beat."
 
Disappointed in how the team prepared during the last three weeks, Martin said, "The last three days were the complete opposite. We made mistakes, but we were more attentive to our jobs, and we were more focused, which allowed us to overcome our mistakes."
 
QUOTE OF THE GAME: Asked about the meaning of the win this early in the season, Martin said, "I've had to answer the question how we're going to handle being 'the hunted.' Well, I think we handled it pretty well. But it's just another game. We're not going to go out and do cartwheels because we won a game in November, but it's a learning experience. "
 
DOESN'T ANYBODY WORK ANYMORE? While it was a Tuesday, and it was a 3 p.m. tipoff, Bramlage Coliseum was packed with 12,528 fans in purple.
 
PULLEN'S GAME: It wasn't the game as planned for KSU All-American Jacob Pullen.
 
Drawing two fouls by the 18:32 mark, Pullen went to the bench with four points in the first 88 seconds of the game. Martin put Pullen back on the floor at the 13:14 mark, but he was called for a charge 41 seconds later.
 
With Pullen on the bench, K-State played much of the first half with a group that had no more than 10 career starts for much of the first half, with sophomore Wally Judge having six of those.
 
"Frank does a great job of preparing us for hard situations and when they saw me go out with that second foul, several of them put their chins up and stepped up to the challenge," said Pullen. "Good teams don't win games because of a person. They win games because of 'a team.' Today the team came together. Everyone had a play that was a momentum builder."
  
Pullen ended up playing just 14 minutes, but scored 13 points with three assists and two steals.
 
STAR OF THE GAME: With Pullen sidelined, freshman Will Spradling stepped up to have a five-point, one-assist, zero-turnover game in 27 minutes of action. Spradling also took three charges on defense.
 
"For him to not just go out there and hold serve, but to help us win is a credit to him," said Martin. "He works extremely hard at listening. He plays with tremendous effort and he listens, and by doing those two things, you're normally in the right place."
 
SUB OF THE GAME (not named Spradling): Jamar Samuels came off the bench to play 23 minutes. He scored 13 points with eight rebounds and a team-high of five assists.
 
Of the five assists, Martin said, "That's a huge step for a guy who couldn't pass the basketball two years ago."
 
GOOD STAT OF THE GAME: K-State collected just three offensive rebounds in the first half when it was out-boarded 21-19.
 
In the second half, the 'Cats collected 12 offensive rebounds, and out-rebounded the Hokies, 46-37, for the game.
 
SI HIGH ON THE 'CATS: We're not sure if the Wildcats believe in the jinx, but K-State's Jacob Pullen is the cover boy for this week's "Sports Illustrated" college basketball preview issue. The publication ranks K-State No. 3 in the country, only behind Duke and Michigan State. Rounding out the Top 4 are Villanova and Pitt. Also from the Big 12 are No. 7 Kansas, No. 8 Baylor and No. 18 Missouri.
 
Inside, Curtis Kelly is featured in picture, with the headline: Fear the beard? More like fear the stable of talented big men.
 
Also included is the pull quote: After lifting his game, the city slicker will lead what Pullen calls "... the best frontcourt in the country."
 
NOTES:
• Devon Peterson has been cleared by the NCAA and played in the last minute of the game.
• K-State's starters scored 36 points; K-State's reserves scored 37.
 
UP NEXT: K-State will play host to Presbyterian at 7 p.m. on Thursday. That game will be followed by a pair in Kansas City against Gonzaga at 8:30 on Monday, and either Duke or Marquette on Tuesday night. Both games will be played in the Sprint Center.