The question leading into the title game of the Diamond Head Classic was how would Kansas State deal with Long Beach State guard Casper Ware. But by the end of the game it was obvious that the better question to ask was how the senior would navigate the Wildcats' tough perimeter defense. Thanks in large part to Will Spradling and Martavious Irving the Wildcats harassed Ware in to a 5-for-18 night from the field, and they took control of the game at both ends on their way to a 77-60 win in Honolulu. Rodney McGruder led the way offensively with 28 points and six rebounds, and he was named tournament MVP as a result of his play all weekend.
As a team the 49ers shot just 36.8% from the field and 6-for-19 from beyond the arc, and while they did manage to grab 17 offensive rebounds it wasn't enough to overcome the K-State attack. Ware and Larry Anderson scored 17 points apiece for the 49ers but no other player would score more than eight on the night for them. In addition to McGruder's performance Spradling scored 17 points and Jamar Samuels added 11 to go along with eight rebounds, four assists and two blocked shots. Kansas State out-rebounded Long Beach State 39-32 and outscored the 49ers 48-38 in the paint, making 54% of their two-point shots.
Long Beach State by comparison made just 39% of their two-point shots, and when adding to that a minus-8 in points from the foul line (20-12; LBSU shot 12-for-21) there's no mystery as to why they were unable to make a comeback. Kansas State led by as many as 18 points in the second half of a game they never trailed, and it's time to start thinking of Frank Martin's club as a serious contender in the Big 12. They've got the bodies up front, with Samuels, Thomas Gipson and Jordan Henriquez-Roberts, and the perimeter depth is there as well. Baylor, Missouri and Kansas are the names that have received the headlines early, but K-State isn't far behind.
As for Long Beach State, while a win on Sunday would have been another solid boost for a non-conference schedule that is the toughest in America they essentially did what they had to do. In beating Xavier they landed a second win over a Top 15 (at the time) team, and their win over Auburn meant avoiding the possibility of having a "bad loss" take away from their resume. In Big West play they're not going to encounter a team like Kansas State, so while UCSB will once again provided a stiff challenge and Cal Poly's been a surprise the 49ers should be fine. They simply ran into a team that was able to put their stamp on the game early and determine the "rules of engagement" throughout.
Other Notable Happenings
1. Xavier beats Southern Illinois to end their three-game losing streak.
Falling to host Hawaii on Friday was tough enough for the Musketeers, who lost their third straight game for the first time in Chris Mack's tenure as head coach. But the situation would have been nothing compared to what could have been had they left the islands 0-3. Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons combined to score 38 points (Holloway dished out seven assists while Lyons grabbed ten rebounds) as the Musketeers beat Southern Illinois 87-77 in the seventh place game. Dantiel Daniels led four Salukis in double figures with 22 points but SIU shot just 40% from the field. So how did they score 77 points? Xavier couldn't keep them off the glass, as Southern Illinois grabbed 19 offensive rebounds on the afternoon.
But Xavier got to the foul line early and often, making 36 of their 48 attempts to take advantage of a 28-16 foul count. In addition to Lyons forward Andre Walker (13 points, 10 rebounds) recorded the first double-double of his career, and it couldn't have come at a better time for a team in desperate need of a win. Will this result allow Xavier to regain the confidence lost in the aftermath of the Cincinnati game? They get Dezmine Wells back so that will definitely help, and they've got a little time before Atlantic 10 play begins to regain the chemistry. This is not a team anyone will line up to face anytime soon.
2. UTEP makes the plays late to pull away from Auburn for third place.
Many picked Tim Floyd's team, which features nine players in their first season on the floor for the program, to finish in the bottom three of Conference USA. Either C-USA is a much-tougher conference than it's given credit for or people were wrong about the Miners, because in going 2-1 at the Diamond Head Classic that did not look like a team that would finish 10th-12th in the league. John Bohannon played his best game of the tournament in the Miners' 83-76 win over Auburn, finishing with 20 points and nine rebounds, and guard Michael Perez added 18 points and a couple of daggers late to seal the deal.
Five UTEP players reached double figures while Tim Floyd's move to a box-and-1 on Frankie Sullivan took the Auburn star out of the flow of the offense in the second half. Kenny Gabriel stepped up with 24 points, eight rebounds and four assists but that wasn't enough to make up for Sullivan scoring seven points on 2-for-5 shooting from the field. UTEP isn't particularly deep as they used just seven players and the inexperience has been documented. But when considering players like Bohannon and Perez, who are getting used to bigger roles, and a transfer in Jacques Streeter who's run a team at this level before (Cal-State Fullerton) maybe they can surprise some folks in Conference USA.
3. Zane Johnson's shooting sparks Hawaii's win over Clemson.
While most visitors to the islands leave with memories they'll never forget, the same may not be said for the Clemson Tigers in terms of their on-court experience. Milton Jennings was suspended for Sunday's fifth-place game against Hawaii due to conduct detrimental to the team for his behavior in a timeout in Friday's win over SIU, but it might not have mattered if he were on the floor Sunday. Zane Johnson made six of his twelve three-point attempts in scoring a game-high 27 points and the Warriors made 16 of 19 free throws in their 75-68 victory.
Vander Joaquim added 14 points and 10 rebounds while Hauns Brereton chipped in with 10 points off the bench. Clemson simple couldn't shoot well enough from inside of the arc, making 18 of 48 shots from two on the afternoon. Gib Arnold's team winning two of three games is a good boost for them as they approach WAC play, where many expect them to slot into the middle of the pack. As for Clemson, they picked up a win but it wasn't pretty. If Jennings and Devin Booker can't provide consistent help for Tanner Smith and Andre Young it could be a long season in the ACC despite the wide-open nature of the league outside of the top two.
Three Notable Performances
1. G Rodney McGruder (Kansas State)
28 points and six rebounds in the Wildcats' 77-60 win over Long Beach State.
2. G Zane Johnson (Hawaii)
27 points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals in the Warriors' 75-68 win over Clemson.
3. C John Bohannon (UTEP)
20 points (6-9 FG, 8-9 FT), nine rebounds, three assists and two steals in the Miners' 83-76 win over Auburn.
Diamond Head Classic All-Tournament Team
G Rodney McGruder (Kansas State) - MVP
G Zane Johnson (Hawaii)
G Michael Perez (UTEP)
G Larry Anderson (Long Beach State)
F Jamar Samuels (Kansas State)