MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP)—Kansas State’s first home victory over a Top 10 opponent in almost four years may have gone a long way toward answering the question of whether Frank Martin can coach.
Sensational freshman Michael Beasley was in early foul trouble against No. 10 Texas A&M on Saturday and the first impulse of the Wildcats’ rookie boss was to bench him for the rest of the first half.
Instead, he subbed the 6-foot-10 phenom in and out expertly, depending on whether Kansas State was on offense or defense, and Beasley finished with 21 points in a 75-54 victory in front of a roaring sellout crowd.
“He’s a smart man,” said Beasley, who had nine points in 9 minutes in the first half. “I didn’t need any more fouls. I picked up two stupid fouls and the way he was playing me in and out, I didn’t want to get any more fouls but I didn’t want to sit there and get stiff so I wouldn’t be helping in the second half. I thought that was a really smart move by Coach Martin.”
Freshman Bill Walker also got his third foul shortly after halftime but scored 19 points and led an impressive defensive charge that gave the Wildcats (12-4, 2-0 Big 12) their first 2-0 start to a conference season in 15 years.
It was the second road loss this week for the Aggies (15-3, 1-2), who made only two of their first 15 shots in the second half.
“They were quicker to the ball,” Texas A&M coach Mark Turgeon said. “We looked like quicksand compared to them. (Beasley) was in foul trouble all night and never lost his rhythm, and he draws fouls better than anybody that I’ve been around.”
Martin, who had never been a college head coach until getting an emergency promotion last spring when Bob Huggins unexpectedly bolted for West Virginia, said his response was “part of my growth.”
“Throughout my whole high school career, if somebody picked up two fouls in the first half they were done. That’s just the way I’ve always done it, and I did that early (this season) against George Mason,” he said. “We were up 20-15 when (Beasley) picked up his second foul and I was stubborn because that’s the way I’ve always done it, so I didn’t play him again and we ended up getting down by nine at one point.”
Walker helped Kansas State to a two-point halftime lead, and after Joseph Jones hit two free throws to bring the Aggies within 41-39, Beasley returned from the bench and hit a quick basket. Clent Stewart scored five points on consecutive possessions, Walker then scored five straight points and Jacob Pullen, another member of Kansas State’s impressive freshman class, tossed in a runner to give Kansas State a 54-42 lead.
Jones scored inside and converted it into a three-point play on the first field goal in almost 11 minutes for A&M. Then Beasley heated up, drilling two 15-footers in a 10-point spurt.
Josh Carter had 13 points for the Aggies, who shot only 37.8 percent, while Jones had 12 and Donald Sloan 10.
Stewart had 10 points for Kansas State, which outrebounded the taller visitors 32-29. Texas A&M came in with a nation-leading rebounding margin of 11.5 and had not been outrebounded all year.
“We have a lot of guys not playing very well right now,” said Turgeon.
While showing critics he can adjust on the fly, Martin also proved the Wildcats can win without a full-time Beasley.
“I’m not in to trying to prove people wrong or right. I’m into coaching our kids and trying to make the right decisions for what’s best for our team,” Martin said.
“If you get wrapped up with what people are saying, then it’s impossible to grow because you’re worried about what everyone’s saying except the people in the locker room. Our guys have bonded. We’ve got just an unbelievable group of kids for as young as we are, that they’ve bonded the way they have.”
The Aggies seemed to be taking charge with an early 8-0 run in the first half, but Kansas State answered immediately with an 8-0 run and wound up with a 35-33 halftime lead after Walker hit consecutive 3-pointers and fed Blake Young with a bounce pass for the go-ahead basket.
“This is right up there with one of the biggest wins that I have been part of,” said Stewart, a senior guard. “Texas A&M has played some good teams and beaten some good teams.”
The Aggies are 0-3 in true road games.
“We get to a point where we lose concentration sometimes,” Aggies guard Dominique Kirk said. “And we don’t have that sense of urgency like we’re supposed to have.”