Big-time players step up and make big-time plays.
It’s been an adage ever since then Miami Hurricane football player Santana Moss said something similar after doing just that years ago. Saturday afternoon in Bramlage Coliseum Angel Rodriguez, the Miami native and Kansas State point guard who plays with a confidence that sometimes may seem larger than his ability, added his own chapter to the legacy of the oft-used phrase.
His No. 16 Wildcats had seen visiting Oklahoma whittle their once 14-point lead down to just seven with 6:24 left to play on a layup by OU forward Romero Osby. Osby blocked a Rodriguez attempt on a desperation drive on K-State’s next possession. Rodriguez, up to that point, had shot just 1 of 11 from the field. He was 0 for 3 from three-point range.
Kansas State needed a spark.
When the Wildcats got the ball back, the score remained the same, and Rodriguez didn’t waste any time extending the K-State lead. He took the ball on an outlet from Thomas Gipson, made his way down the right side of the court and with a hesitation move a step inside the free-throw line, blew past Osby and OU forward Cameron Clark for the score off of the glass. 54-45.
Then, after Oklahoma’s Steven Pledger and the Wildcats’ Will Spradling traded a three for a long two, and two free throws by Amath M’Baye cut the K-State lead six, Rodriguez went to the paint again. This time within the framework of K-State head coach Bruce Weber’s motion offense.
Receiving a pass at the top of the key Rodriguez turned down a screen from Gipson to the left side, crossed-over Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield and drove past a host of Sooner defenders for his second lay-in in a row. 58-50.
Osby answered with a jumper to cut the lead back to six, but on the ensuing possession Rodriguez sank his first three-pointer of the game, an off-the-dribble 23-footer with seven seconds left on the Wildcat shot clock. 61-52.
Three huge buckets in 3 minutes 43 seconds of game time that were vital to holding off head coach and K-State alum Lon Kruger’s Sooners.
That isn’t so say that Rodriguez wasn’t heavenly in other aspects of the game before his shots started falling. He was tough on defense, picking up three steals and frustrating the Sooners by constantly hedging on screens and getting in the grills of OU ball-handlers without a hint of the foul trouble that has plagued him in recent weeks.
He was conscious with the basketball, committing just one turnover and dishing nine assists in 32 minutes of play recognizing the hot hands of teammates Rodney McGruder, Shane Southwell and Spradling, who carried K-State’s scoring load for much of the game. None of which were bigger than a highlight-reel drive, stop, between the legs dribble and dish to a cutting McGruder whose reverse lay-in gave the Wildcats a 64-54 lead with 1:29 to play.
“Big-time players make big-time plays in big games,” was the quote from fellow Miamian Moss, and it was apt to describe Rodriguez’ effort that helped K-State to it’s 69-60 win over Oklahoma on Saturday, securing K-State’s fourth Big 12 win this season, and an undefeated conference record.
Rodriguez displayed every ounce of that Miami toughness, that moxie on Saturday. It’s why Louisville head coach Rick Pitino once coveted him on the recruiting trail, why some K-State fans worried that former K-State head coach Frank Martin might take Rodriguez along with him to South Carolina last spring, and why Weber has so openly said that the Wildcats need Angel to play well and for a high amount of minutes to find success.
With a mammoth Tuesday-night showdown with No. 4 Kansas in Manhattan that will grant one Sunflower State team sole possession of first place in the Big 12 looming, Rodriguez should have ample opportunity to, once again, step up to the challenge soon enough.