Shuffling along the sideline, in his standard raspy voice, Bruce Weber barked at his K-State team to get in the paint during a quiet moment Tuesday night at Bramlage Coliseum.
The Wildcats found themselves in an early 11-2 hole against Omaha, and a 1-for-5 start from the field left the crowd silent and uneasy.
Weber finished his piercing sideline berating, and the student section cheered — it needed a reason to. The Wildcats hadn’t lost a home non-conference game since December 2014.
K-State took the message to heart.
The Wildcats responded by rattling off 21 unanswered points, taking the lead for good. The student section roared in delight, and K-State rode the momentum to an 81-68 win.
The run started with a triple from sophomore Kamau Stokes, followed by a wicked dunk from freshman Xavier Sneed. The Wildcats later drilled two additional threes, and by the time the Mavericks stopped the bleeding, K-State had grabbed a 25-13 lead.
Even after witnessing the Wildcats’ dismal shooting start, Weber said he implored his team to improve on defense during the timeout he took to help his team respond to the early deficit.
“At that timeout, I got after them. I said, ‘I don’t care about the offense, but the defense, we’re just letting them do whatever they want,’” Weber said. “We stepped it up; got after them; got stops.”
After the enormous run, K-State entered halftime up 42-31.
The second half saw several Wildcats reach double figures in points: sophomore Barry Brown finished with 15, senior Wesley Iwundu and Stokes each totaled 14, and senior D.J. Johnson posted 11 to accompany seven rebounds.
K-State also saw four players score in double figures in Friday’s season-opening win over Western Illinois.
The season is only two games old, but Weber likes what he’s seen in the scoring department thus far.
“That versatility and balance I think is key,” he said. “There’s going to be nights that Kam will have a big night; Wes will have a big night; Dean (Wade)’s going to have big nights, but the balance and the versatility, I think, is going to be one of our strengths.”
Even after the game-changing run, though, K-State knew its 12-point lead at halftime was far from secure.
So they canned three straight threes to start the second half, two from Stokes and one from Sneed. The result was a 13-5 run to open the half and a 19-point lead, a much more comfortable margin for both K-State and Weber.
“I liked the first five minutes of the second half, which we haven’t been very good at coming into the two exhibitions and that first game,” Weber said. “(We) kind of broke their spirit a little bit.”
There was a lot for Weber to like about his offense Tuesday night, but K-State all but rendered useless two of Omaha’s best players: Marcus Tyus and Tre’Shawn Thurman. In the Mavericks’ narrow loss to Southern California Sunday, Tyus recorded 33 points, while Thurman logged 20 points and 14 rebounds.
On Tuesday, Tyus scored just two points, and the Wildcats limited Thurman to 10 points and six rebounds.
Weber was well aware of the duo’s stellar performances.
“You get 33 at a Pac-12 school that was in the NCAA (tournament) last year, (you know) this guy can play,” Weber said.
Weber explained shutting down Tyus and Thurman was a result of sending several different K-State defenders to harass the volatile pair.
“Wes was taking on the challenge; Barry (was too). They were kind of fighting over who could guard the best guy,” he said.
Perhaps one of the night’s most sneaky-good performances came from Carlbe Ervin. The senior recored only four points, but his eight assists and nine rebounds were career highs.
Ervin told Weber before the game that he cares little for his individual play. He just wanted to win the game — so he found ways to contribute.
Ervin came off the bench Tuesday, but it didn’t matter to him. On top of the solid numbers, he provided nearly palpable energy.
“We (weren’t) moving the ball; we (were) being sticky-fingers a little bit,” Ervin said. “I came in and got a quick three assists, and that got them going, and that’s when we started running.”
His initial contributions ignited the mammoth run, an aspect of the responsibilities Ervin has embraced in his senior campaign.
“A lot of young people look up to me because I know what’s going on,” Ervin said. “I just want to do everything coach asks us to do, and help my teammates realize what they’re preaching to us is obviously the correct way.”
Johnson also posted a solid night, and his and-one capped off K-State’s 21-0 run in the first stanza.
“I didn’t even notice we scored 21,” Johnson said. “I was not looking at the scoreboard; just running up and down. I think we passed the ball well, and we locked up on the defensive end. I don’t know how many stops we had in between there, but I’m sure it was plenty.”
The victory was a thrilling one for K-State, but the win meant much more than beating a non-conference foe to move to 2-0 for the year. In keeping with their bond with each other and their families, the Wildcats donned special warm-up shirts before the game that honored assistant coach Chris Lowery’s son Kahari, who passed away Nov. 1.
“Coach Lowery said, ‘I’ve got to get back to practice,’” Weber said. “I’m not an expert by any means, but I have been through it. I lost a sister; I’ve lost my parents; lost my grandparents, whoever. I just know time and people and caring and love make a difference.”
K-State may not rip off 21 straight points again this season, as Weber acknowledged after the game. But a man can hope, and Weber remains both hopeful and confident ahead of K-State’s Sunday matchup with Hampton in Manhattan.