MANHATTAN — Kansas State coach Frank Martin knows he enjoys the makings of an excellent team. So he is more than happy to mercilessly dissect his players after an easy victory.
The Wildcats can take it, and Martin knows they will listen and get better. No. 3 Kansas State opened the season with a 75-61 win over James Madison in the CBE Classic on Friday at Bramlage Coliseum.
“I told you we weren't a good basketball team,” Martin said. “We're not a good basketball team. It was a typical opener with so many young guys. A lot of mistakes.”
Martin wasn’t happy with his veterans and their lack of leadership, starting with benched forward Curtis Kelly. He wasn’t happy with his centers and forwards, who didn’t give the Wildcats much production. Guard Nick Russell scored a career-high 19 points, despite clogging the offense by holding the ball too long. The Wildcats aren’t practicing hard, and that worries Martin with a No. 21 Virginia Tech visiting on Tuesday.
“We jogged around; we whiffed on screens,” Martin said. “That's how we practiced. We’ve got to get a lot better. (Virginia Tech) will absolutely humiliate us if we don't get a lot better on defense.”
On Friday, Kansas State played well enough on defense to frazzle James Madison. It shut down the Dukes offense for much of the second half, allowing the Wildcats to build a 20-point lead and cruise.
“Their defensive pressure wore us down,” James Madison coach Matt Brady said. “You can’t turn it over that many times.”
The Wildcats led 38-30 at halftime after allowing James Madison to make half its shots. With eight minutes to play, K-State led 58-42 after stopping James Madison’s offense with pressure and height. The Dukes committed 17 turnovers (26 total) and made a mere eight field goals in the second half.
“We always want to put pressure on the ball,” K-State guard Jacob Pullen said.
The Wildcats played without Kelly, a returning starter benched by Martin despite being healthy. Junior Jamar Samuels scored two points in 11 minutes after missing the two exhibition games with an eye injury.
Pullen led the Wildcats with 20 points. K-State made 10 of 19 three-pointers.
“We got a lot of open looks,” Pullen said. “You’ve got to keep the defense honest.”
The Dukes blamed poor defensive rotations for leaving good shooters open.
“We didn't think they were going to shoot that well,” James Madison guard Devon Moore said. “That's why they’re the No. 3 team in the nation. We ran out there at them. They just knocked down shots.”
K-State’s big men did not add much offense. Freddy Asprilla didn’t score. Wally Judge made 1 of 6 shots for two points. Jordan Henriquez-Roberts added six points.
“Our bigs got to get more physical,” Pullen said. “It will come. I’m not worried about our bigs at all.”
Rayshawn Goins led James Madison with 17 points and 12 rebounds.
The Wildcats took control early in the second half with an improved effort on defense and deadly outside shooting. Rodney McGruder’s follow dunk capped an 11-3 run and gave K-State a 49-33 lead. Back-to-back threes forced James Madison to call timeout, down 55-35, with 13:40 remaining in the game.
K-State’s pressure on the perimeter disrupted James Madison’s offense. The driving lanes that opened early in the game disappeared. The James Madison guards, with starter Humpy Hitchens in foul trouble, turned the ball over. The Dukes committed eight turnovers in the first eight minutes of the second half, including a stretch of four in five possessions to help the Wildcats build a 20-point lead.
K-State’s defense started slowly, much to the displeasure of Martin. The Dukes got easy shots early in the game, and Martin went to his bench to find better defenders.
“We had our mental lapses, our mental breakdowns,” Pullen said. “Overall, I feel we lacked a little bit of energy.”