Justin Edwards hopes his college basketball career will continue in the NIT. If it doesn’t, he can take solace in knowing he went out with a bang in the Big 12 Tournament.
Edwards, a senior guard, played his finest individual game since transferring to Kansas State from Maine three years ago during an 85-63 loss to Kansas on Thursday at Sprint Center. He scored a career-high 23 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and showed more energy than anyone else on the court.
It wasn’t enough to lift his team to victory, but his effort was a bright spot on an otherwise dreary afternoon.
“Justin had a career night,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “He kept giving his all, all the way until the end.”
Edwards was at his best from the three-point line, where he connected on five of seven shots.
“That was my career high in hitting threes,” Edwards said. “My shot was on. I have been in the gym a lot. I was just hitting them a lot today.”
His teammates weren’t surprised. Edwards entered the day as K-State’s leading scorer, averaging 12.2 points, and he cemented that title by knocking down shots against the top-ranked Jayhawks.
At one point, he scored seven straight points for the Wildcats, which lacked offensive punch from the start. Wesley Iwundu and D.J. Johnson both finished with 10 points, but Kansas led 45-30 at halftime and went ahead by as many as 26.
The score would have been worse without Edwards.
“That is what he does,” K-State freshman Barry Brown said. “It’s not like he went outside his comfort zone. I am glad he played that way, but it wasn’t anything spectacular. He didn’t do a between-the-legs layup or anything. That was within his game.”
Edwards was motivated to play well. Before this week, he had never won a conference tournament game. He went 0-2 at Maine, and K-State lost to TCU in the opening round last year. He scored 17 and helped the Wildcats beat Oklahoma State on Wednesday. Then he followed that with a strong effort against Kansas. He will exit the Big 12 Tournament as one of its leading scorers, despite playing in two games.
Now, Edwards hopes he gets another opportunity to show off his skills.
K-State, 17-16, is on the NIT bubble. The Wildcats meet the traditional criteria for NIT teams, but there are fewer at-large bids available than usual, because seven conference champions that stand no chance of making the NCAA Tournament have already claimed automatic bids.
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett