Honolulu Angel Rodriguez is feeling at home in the Tropics and finding himself getting more comfortable with his shots.
The freshman from Puerto Rico came off the bench and scored a career-high 17 points, including five 3-pointers, as Kansas State cruised to an 83-58 victory over Southern Illinois in the opening round of the Diamond Head Classic on Thursday.
"At the beginning of the season, my shooting wasn't going well, but I stayed positive," he said. "I know I'm capable of making shots. I stayed in the gym shooting, taking extra shots, and I knew finally they were going to go in. Thank God today was the day."
Jamar Samuels added 14 points and five rebounds while Rodney McGruder had 13 points and six boards for the Wildcats (8-1), who won their third straight and overcame 19 turnovers by dominating the paint while playing an effective inside-out game.
Kansas State moves on to face UTEP in Friday's semifinal round. The Miners (5-5) defeated Clemson 61-48 behind Michael Perez's career-high 25 points.
Behind Samuels and the 6-foot-11 Jordan Henriquez, the Wildcats controlled the inside with a 44-31 rebounding edge and a 30-14 advantage on points in the paint. Henriquez had 10 points, eight rebounds and two blocks.
With all the attention in the key, Rodriguez was able to find some wide-open looks.
"Most of my 3s came from the guards giving the ball to the posts, and they kicked it out and we got some open shots," Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez, coming off a 13-point performance against Alabama, was sharp. He was 5 of 6 from 3-point range and hit a 3-pointer to put the Wildcats up 40-25, capping a 9-2 run that began with an alley-oop dunk by Henriquez off a baseline drive and dish by Rodriguez.
He had a total of four 3-pointers in the first eight games.
"We've got guys that can shoot the ball," Kansas State coach Frank Martin said. "I've never been concerned about some of the guys missing shots. When you've got the wrong players shooting 3s, then that's a problem. But we've got the right ones shooting."
Kansas State built a 48-29 lead at halftime, the most points the Wildcats have scored in the first half all season. Rodriguez and McGruder each had 11 points at the break.
Coming into the game, the Salukis had held opponents to an average of 58.5.
The Wildcats were a little sloppy with the ball, however, committing 19 turnovers, including 12 in the first half.
"It's unacceptable," Martin said. "There's so many possessions in the games we play because we play fast that the turnover numbers will be a little bit higher than those teams that play slow. But 18, 19 is out of control. You can't have that many."
With a size advantage and an aggressive, pressing defense, the Wildcats took the early lead and kept pulling away, shooting 54.3 percent from the field and 9 of 14 from the beyond the arc.
Jeff Early and Justin Bocot each had 10 points to lead the Salukis (3-6), who had trouble finding their range and shot 29.5 percent. They were 1 of 9 from 3-point range in the first half and 5 of 22 for the game.
Mamadou Seck, who ran into early foul trouble, was held to five points in 14 minutes. Seck, who averages a team-leading 13.6 points and 8.5 rebounds, picked up his fourth personal with 16:01 left and was replaced by Dantiel Daniels.
Seck returned with 9:34 left and the Salukis down by 20, but it was too late. Rodriguez then hit a 3-pointer that sparked a 12-0 run that pushed Kansas State's lead to 75-45 with 6:56 left.
Kansas State improved to 7-0 against SIU. The teams last met in 1983, with the Wildcats winning 57-49.