For a team distracted, supposedly, by an upcoming trip to Madison Square Garden, Kansas State did a pretty good job of appearing incredibly focused.
The Wildcats rolled to a 74-55 win over North Florida in front of a half-full Bramlage Coliseum on Sunday, using a season-high 16 points from preseason All-Big 12 selection Rodney McGruder and a dominant performance on the boards to improve to 4-0.
K-State gets its first shot at the national stage on Wednesday, taking on Delaware in New York in the Preseason NIT. The winner of that game plays the winner of Wednesday’s Michigan-Pittsburgh contest.
“No doubt, practice wasn’t great,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “It’s a game that you know is going to happen, I even wrote on the board that it was a maturity game, a pride game. We had enough good weapons, enough good defense to at least get a comfortable victory.”
Weber wasn’t happy with the Wildcats’ effort in practice on Wednesday and Thursday, but he didn’t underscore the fact that his team, with a large group of returners, would overlook North Florida. The Wildcats, who edged the Ospreys 79-68 in overtime last season, seemed to do the opposite, outrebounding North Florida 54-31.
Thomas Gipson added 12 points and nine rebounds for the Wildcats, while Adrian Diaz came off the bench with nine points and 10 rebounds. Nino Williams was the other K-State player in double figures with 10 points.
“When you give up as many rebounds as you score points, it’s going to make things pretty difficult,” North Florida coach Matthew Driscoll said. “Those guys really hurt us in the post.”
North Florida (1-3), a member of the Atlantic Sun, had several chances to cut the Wildcats’ lead to single digits in the first half but couldn’t convert baskets – K-State junior guard Will Spradling cut short a second-chance possession for the Ospreys by taking a charge with the Wildcats leading 26-15 and 7:48 left before halftime.
North Florida did finally get K-State’s lead under 10 with back-to-back three-pointers to make the score 30-21 with just under five minutes to play in the hald, but McGruder responded with a three of his own on K-State’s next possession and the Wildcats cruised into halftime ahead 40-26.
In the second half, K-State was able to put the game away fairly early, going up by 49-28 on a basket from McGruder less than three minutes in.
With such a big lead in the second half, Weber decided to sit his starters with around nine minutes left. K-State’s players weren’t available for comment after the game.
After six games to start the season at Bramlage — two exhibition to begin with — Weber said the Wildcats were looking forward to hitting the road for the first time.
“Bramlage is great, but we need to get away from here,” Weber said. “We’ve got to get prepared … we’ve got a couple of neutral games then come back home then get a real road game. It’s all part of making progress, of becoming a team that’s solid when you get to January and February.”