NEW YORK -- Quick thoughts from Kansas State’s 66-63 victory over Delaware in the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off.
Overview: Delaware would just not go away, even when the Blue Hens had every reason to. Their best player, senior forward Jamelle Hagins, missed much of the second half with cramps. The Blue Hens trailed by as much as 11.
Yet Delaware kept responding to every Kansas State shot, and the Colonial Athletic Association school would not make life comfortable for the bigger school from the Big 12. The Blue Hens did this the entire game, even cutting the K-State lead to two points, 60-58, with 1 minute, 20 seconds left.
Each time KSU tried to pull away -- from a 15-5 run in the first half to a mini 5-0 run early in the second half -- Delaware kept retaliating. But the Blue Hens could never take the lead.
Turning point: Kansas State forward Nino Williams made a long 2-pointer from the right wing with 52 seconds left to give the Wildcats a 62-58 lead and forced Delaware to have to foul to extend the game, even when the Blue Hens continually cut the game to one possession.
Key player: When Delaware started to make a run, cutting the Wildcats' lead to three, 58-55, Kansas State guard Angel Rodriguez did what crafty point guards do: He made a crucial play. Rodriguez drove the lane and made a spinning layup, giving K-State a 60-55 lead. Rodriguez had 12 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds for the Wildcats.
Key stat: 12-of-14 from the free throw line. Those were KSU’s numbers Wednesday, a performance that included four consecutive made free throws in crunch time to extend leads from one possession to two twice during the final minute of the game.
Miscellaneous: Even in a loss, Hagins emerged as a mid-major player to keep an eye on the rest of the season. He had 12 points and 15 rebounds before cramps limited him the rest of the game -- and played well against a big Kansas State frontcourt. ... Delaware guards Devon Saddler and Terrell Rogers stood out not because of their play, but their footwear. Saddler wore pink shoes to go with bright pink socks, while Rogers had pink shoes with white socks.
Up next: Both teams stay in New York after a day off for turkey, stuffing and all the side dishes coming along with Thanksgiving. Kansas State advances to the Preseason NIT championship game Friday against either No. 4 Michigan or Pittsburgh. Delaware will play in the third-place game against the Michigan-Pittsburgh loser, but the Blue Hens will have another chance for a victory against a major-conference program.