Kansas State University

Kansas State handles Western Illinois 82-55 in opener

Kansas State coach Bruce Weber talks to his players during the first half Friday night in Manhattan.
Kansas State coach Bruce Weber talks to his players during the first half Friday night in Manhattan. Associated Press

If its 82-55 victory over Western Illinois is an indicator of things to come, Kansas State will be an exciting basketball team this season.

The Wildcats gave fans plenty to cheer about Friday at Bramlage Coliseum, opening the season with a highlight-filled game.

Friday’s box score

It was exactly the style of play K-State strives for.

“We wanted to set a tone for the first game of the season and also just for ourselves,” sophomore guard Barry Brown said after leading all scorers with 18 points. “We are a good team, we just have to let people know that by coming out strong and punching (teams) in the mouth.”

The Wildcats flashed that potential early and late against the Fighting Leathernecks.

They were at their best on an impressive sequence in the first half that saw point guard Kamau Stokes rebound a missed three from Western Illinois and immediately push the ball up court. It wasn’t a typical fast-break situation, but Stokes turned it into a quick scoring opportunity with a nifty pass to freshman Xavier Sneed. The play ended with a vicious dunk and K-State led 29-14.

Later, Wesley Iwundu found Brown for a similar score.

K-State moved the ball so well that it made 10 of 14 three-pointers with even walk-on senior Austin Budke getting in on the act. In the first half, he found himself so open in the corner that he was able to attempt and make his first three in a Wildcats uniform.

“We have more guys who can shoot it,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “But the biggest key is they were open threes. When we move the ball and work it, we are versatile. We have guys who are going to make them. I don’t think there is any doubt about that.

“To go 71 percent, I don’t know if we will be able to do that every night. We might lead the nation. But we will better than we were a year ago when we were last in the Big 12.”

That kind of offense combined with strong defense allowed K-State to take a 35-21 halftime lead and begin the season with a mostly drama-free win.

Iwundu and Xavier Sneed both had 17 and Stokes finished with 11. D.J. Johnson had seven points and a career-high 12 rebounds.

It was an all-around solid effort for a team still trying to find its perfect rotation. But it wasn’t perfect.

K-State’s first basketball game of the season in some ways resembled its exhibitions, which left something to be desired.

Much like in those warm-ups, the Wildcats were great in the first half and built a big lead, and then they were mediocre in the second half and had to sweat out a closer-than-expected ending.

Behind 17 points from Garret Covington, Western Illinois pulled to within 57-49 with a shade under 8 minutes to play. All of K-State’s starters were still in the game, and the crowd grew restless. No one wanted this game to get any closer, especially Weber.

“I said, ‘Hey, it’s 0-0 now. You have to grow up as a team and execute and see what you do,’” Weber said.

That’s when K-State went on a 12-0 run to clinch the game.

“I thought we grew up a little bit,” Weber said.

Stokes made a pair of free throws, Sneed hit a three, Brown made a layup, Stokes drained a jumper and Dean Wade buried a three. Later, Sneed made a three while being fouled to extend the lead even further.

“Dean found me with a pass and I just took it and shot it,” Sneed said. “I was already in rhythm. I had already hit a couple threes. He fouled me and then I made it.”

Just like that, a potentially close game became a blowout.

The strong finish will give K-State something to build off before its next game against Omaha on Tuesday.

“We found a run and put that team away,” Brown said. “That is what we have to do moving forward.”

Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett