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December 4, 2011

K-State win is No. 100 for Martin

BLACKSBURG, Va. -- Frank Martin has literally done it 100 times.

It was only fitting that the Kansas State coach's centennial victory came in the same manner as so many of its predecessors. The Wildcats' 69-61 win over Virginia Tech on Sunday wasn't pretty or pleasing to the eyes of basketball purists. The product of a great offensive system it was not.

It was, however, familiar. Vintage. Classic, even.

There were no style points awarded and no flashy strings of wonderful ball movement. Martin has never been too interested in those things, anyway. Win No. 100 was done with defense. It was done with timely rebounding and a knack for getting to free-throw line. It was done with players diving for loose balls and limping off the court as if they'd just wrapped up an unsanctioned cage fight in a boiler room.

Sunday's win over Virginia Tech wasn't just executed by K-State. It was K-State.

"That's our program," sophomore Shane Southwell, who scored 11 points in the victory, said. "That's K-State basketball. It's because of the wars we go through in practice and the wars we go through in the weight room. That's what prepares us to play and win that kind of game."

K-State players are no strangers to adversity, and Sunday evening carried a 20-minute dose of it. This time it came in the form of a sluggish opening half that could have buried some teams inside an inescapable hole.

The Wildcats, now 5-0, started the contest 4 for 16 from the floor and shot just 27 percent in the opening half. They missed 13 free throws and even botched a pair of barely contested layups. Yet in a scene that has unfolded on so many occasions in recent years, effort overcame the lapses.

Six blocks, a 57-percent second-half field-goal percentage and 13 forced turnovers resulting from K-State's trademark pressure-based defense allowed Martin to reach 100 wins faster than any Wildcat coach not named Tex Winter. There was no parade and no confetti falling from the Cassell Coliseum rafters after the buzzer, but the fifth-year head coach wasn't interested in downplaying the accomplishment when he met the press.

Is it significant? You bet.

"That's what happens when you're given an opportunity and you have great people around you," he said. "Our coaches, our players and our administration aren't going in different directions. We're all united. When I make decisions, they support me. I'm just lucky."

The Wildcats trailed by just six points at halftime despite shooting a repulsive 27 percent in opening period, but managed to stay afloat. The defensive effort and pressure was enough to keep the Hokies in check for 20 minutes, which turned out to be the exact amount of time it took K-State to find something resembling an offensive prowess.

The story was a classic. Pressure has surrounded Martin since he took the reins of the program five years ago. First there was pressure to capitalize on landing Michael Beasley, the country's top recruit. Then there was pressure to maintain success after his departure. But maybe most significant was the pressure to prove he wasn't the "panic hire" he was billed as.

So on Sunday night in Virginia, it was fitting that pressure helped make him just the fourth coach in program history with 100 wins to his name.

"Great players have days when they don't make shots, and great offensive coaches have days when the offense isn't very good, but the effort, pressure and energy that you play with can't change," Martin said. "Our defense and ability to take people out of their stuff can't change."

Of course Martin wasn't the one scoring points on the floor. The bulk of that task was left to senior Jamar Samuels, who turned in his best performance of the young season, a 17-point, 14-rebound game that featured a two-handed dunk and an ensuing scream that looked capable of shattering a backboard.

"I want to see this game on tape just to see how physical it was and how tough we were in the second half," Samuels said. "It was rough, but that's the way we like to play."

About an hour before Virginia Tech head coach Seth Greenberg approached Martin in the arena's tunnel to congratulate him on No. 100, Southwell broke a 45-45 tie with less than 10 minutes to play with a slashing layup. The shot ignited a sense of urgency in Martin's squad and led to a 10-0 run that staked the Wildcats to a lead they would not surrender.

"They were tougher than us in the second half," Greenburg, whose team fell to 5-3, said. "We didn't compete offensively, and we didn't get loose balls. Right from the start of the second half, we were a step behind."

Jordan Henriquez, Thomas Gipson and Will Spradling each scored nine points in the K-State victory, while Robert Brown led the Virginia Tech scoring effort with 15 despite shooting 6 for 17 from the floor.

K-State's next game will come Thursday against the program's former coach when Martin's Wildcats take on Bob Huggins' West Virginia squad at Wichita's Intrust Bank Arena.


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