MANHATTAN — Yes, Kansas State coach Bruce Weber already had a pair of exhibition games under his belt at Bramlage Coliseum.
It didn’t make Friday’s regular-season opener against North Dakota — also Weber’s first official game as K-State’s coach — any less special.
“I think it’s still the real thing, because, obviously, the exhibitions don’t count toward your record,” Weber said. “We talked about energy, about enthusiasm, and I thought we played hard. We matched (North Dakota’s) intensity.”
The Wildcats pulled away a little in the first half and a lot early in the second half as they rolled to an 85-52 win in the first game of the post-Frank Martin era in front of 12,199 fans.
“I thought we were good with the intensity until the last three or four minutes,” Weber said. “I’ve said all along I think we have nice pieces, we just need everybody to figure out their role and accept it.”
The Wildcats were without one of the biggest pieces for most of the first half. Sophomore point guard Angel Rodriguez picked up two quick fouls in the first five minutes and didn’t return.
The Wildcats led 24-15 before North Dakota answered with an 8-0 run to make the score 24-13 with just under seven minutes to play. K-State went back to the post and hit the boards before halftime, pushing the lead to 36-27.
“I think our guys battled the first 20 minutes,” North Dakota coach Brian Jones said. “They just really wore us out and got us into foul trouble the whole game. I give their defense a lot of credit for their physicality and their depth on the inside.”
Rodriguez was back out to start the second half and wasted little time making his presence known, hitting back-to-back three-pointers and then a driving basket to push K-State’s lead to 44-31 just 90 seconds in.
“I barely played the first half … I usually play with a lot of energy so I knew this time I had to come out with the most energy I’ve ever played with,” Rodriguez said. “I was fresh, my legs were fresh. I did have to be careful, which I kind of was not.”
Weber laughed at Rodriguez’s inability to back off on defense because of foul trouble — he also had two steals in the second half.
“I thought we played pretty well defensively,” Weber said. “They only hit nine of 33 shots in the second half.”
Rodriguez and fellow sophomore Thomas Gipson led the Wildcats with 13 points each. Senior guard Martavious Irving added 11 points, including three three-pointers. Junior Will Spradling was the other K-State player in double figures with 10 points.
Senior Rodney McGruder, a preseason All-Big 12 selection, had six points on 3-for-12 shooting.
“Most of us have been here, we have to just let (the team) know that these games get more tough,” Irving said. “And we have to play more tough as the season progresses.”