Just in case Kansas State basketball players failed to view a narrow, low-scoring victory over Bradley as a wake-up call, Wildcats coach Bruce Weber reinforced the pressing need for improvement on Friday.
While previewing K-State’s next game against Savannah State with media, he refused to single out individuals for positive or negative purposes. Instead, he discussed what the Wildcats need to do to progress as a team, particularly on offense.
His message was clear: Steady production from Marcus Foster, Thomas Gipson and Nino Williams is not enough. The team needs more from Nigel Johnson, Wesley Iwundu and Justin Edwards.
“Everyone knows we have got to get something out of Nigel, Wesley, and Justin to help us ease the pressure on Marcus and Thomas,” Weber said. “People are double-teaming Thomas. It’s smart. Now, we have to adjust.”
The biggest adjustment could come at small forward.
Weber has gone back and forth between Iwundu, a sophomore, and Edwards, a junior, at the wing position all season. Edwards opened the year as the starter, but his play dropped after two promising games. Iwundu took his place and gave K-State an instant lift at the Maui Invitational, but he has also struggled with consistency. Now, they are both producing mediocre numbers. Edwards is averaging 5.7 points and 3.7 rebounds, while Iwundu is averaging 5.1 points and 4.6 rebounds.
Against Bradley, Weber went back to Edwards. But he’s not sure who will start Sunday against Savannah State.
The position was viewed as one of K-State’s strengths entering the season. But a proven sophomore and a hyped transfer have failed the meet expectations.
“Justin, I thought it would take him a little time, but he has missed some (easy shots),” Weber said. “He can jump 16 feet, but he has missed some dead layups. Wes is a little surprising, because he played last year and dunked on Kentucky at the end of the year. Now he is going in and getting his shots blocked. I hope slowly but surely it comes around.”
Weber’s words of encouragement in the meantime: Be strong.
“His shots have all been in the paint and he is struggling,” Weber said of Iwundu. “He’s not going up strong. He needs to play strong, Justin and him … it would be nice if he got down the court and got some transition. It would be nice if he got some put backs. He has got a couple put backs, but then he doesn’t go up strong or get to the foul line.”
Teammates aren’t worred about Iwundu or Edwards. They realize they need to help the offense go, too.
“We just need to move the ball and get some movement,” point guard Jevon Thomas said. “Make sure everyone is touching the ball. It was a really low-scoring game, because not everyone was touching the ball. When the ball did get swung around we forced a lot of bad shots. We need to run and get some transition buckets. A lot of teams have figured out our sets so they take everything away. We just have to learn how to play more and be free.”
Weber would like to see a more laid-back approach.
“I think that is the case with a lot of our guys right now,” Weber said. “They are not seeing the game. They are impatient, trying to hurry. Hopefully we can calm down a little bit.”
Savannah State at Kansas State
When: 5 p.m. Sunday
Where: Bramlage Coliseum, Manhattan
Records: SSU 3-7, KSU 5-4
Radio: KQAM, 1480-AM; KWLS, 107.9-FM
Savannah State at Kansas State
Savannah State (3-7): The Tigers are undefeated in three home games and winless in seven road games. The road losses have come by lopsided margins. They are coming off a 70-39 defeat at Miami. Before that, they lost 95-49 at Indiana. Savannah State doesn’t have a single player who averages 10 points. Muhammad is the team’s leading scorer, averaging 8.7 points.
Kansas State (5-4): The Wildcats are coming off a victory over Bradley, but it wasn’t the type of win that created smiles afterward. Getting on a winning streak before the start of conference play is a must for K-State, so players have been working as hard as possible to prepare for this game. Forward Stephen Hurt will not play Sunday while he recovers from a groin injury. Weber hopes he can return for Texas A&M on Dec. 20 at Sprint Center.