Kansas State forward Jamar Samuels has played three games in Allen Fieldhouse, Jordan Henriquez, Martavious Irving, Rodney McGruder and Victor Ojeleye two, Will Spradling and Shane Southwell one. Frank Martin has been the Wildcats’ head coach four times, an assistant to Bob Huggins at K-State once, in Allen Fieldhouse.
All those Wildcats have something in common. They never have tasted victory in Allen Fieldhouse.
Martin did a nice job Monday on the weekly Big 12 coaches conference call of summarizing what makes playing in the fieldhouse so difficult.
“There are three major challenges,” Martin said. “Bill Self and his coaching staff, their players and the culture that they’ve built, and then, obviously, the 16,000 who sit in the stands and just don’t let you communicate with your players.
“That may sound simplistic, but it is what it is. They’ve got a lot to be proud of there. Their team plays to it every single time they take their home court. Their crowd is amazing, and it makes it an incredible challenge for us and everybody else who goes in there.”
Martin knows better than to think that school not being in session means the building won’t generate the same intensity Wednesday night in the conference opener for both squads.
“We went in there for their conference home-opener in early January, and it was absolutely bonkers in there,” Martin said.
A crowd’s influence generally benefits the home team’s defense more than anything, in part because it rattles the opposing ballhandlers.
The seven Wildcats with Allen Fieldhouse experience have played 211 minutes in the building, or 11 minutes more than a team compiles in one game. They have combined for three assists and 15 turnovers in those 211 minutes and have shot just .340.
Obviously, they’re older and more experienced than when they played those minutes, a year older and more experienced than when they lost 90-66.
McGruder, the leading scorer (12.5 points per game) for K-State (11-1), has had the most statistical success of any of the Wildcats in Allen Fieldhouse, averaging 10 points and six rebounds and shooting .538 overall, .429 from beyond the three-point semicircle.
Likely to be hounded by KU’s lock-down defender Travis Releford, McGruder has emerged from a five-game shooting slump in which he made just two of 20 three-point attempts. He has made eight of 13 in the past four games. He made 10 of 11 field goals and six of seven free throws and scored 28 points in a 17-point victory against Long Beach State.
“Rodney faced adversity, and he didn’t pack up his bags and go home or pull up a pillow on the corner of the bench and cry,” Martin said. “He’s played so much better of late.”
During that same four-game stretch during which McGruder heated up, sophomore guard Will Spradling has made eight of 14 three-pointers. If KU’s big men don’t hustle back on defense and the guards have to drop down to protect the goal, McGruder and Spradling could burn the Jayhawks by nailing open threes in transition, no matter how loud it gets Wednesday.