Bruce Weber probably wasn’t expecting to hear the Panera Bread clerk compliment his team when he stopped into the restaurant Saturday night.
And the K-State head coach probably wasn’t anticipating such precise, purposeful praise, either.
But that’s what happened when he visited.
“I went to Panera last night to get some soup for my wife, and the girl at the checkout said, ‘My dad and I were watching the game, and you guys have so much versatility. So many weapons. It’s going to be hard to scout,’” Weber said.
The praise was well-earned: K-State saw four players score in double-figures for the third straight game Sunday night in Manhattan, and the Wildcats blew out Hampton, 89-67, in the first night of the Barclays Center Classic.
Senior Wesley Iwundu led the charge and tied a career high with 23 points, including three triples, a trend the Wildcats leaned on Sunday — K-State totaled a gaudy 12 treys, the most in a game the last five seasons. And it started fast.
Iwundu nailed two threes to open the contest, followed by two from sophomore Kamau Stokes. Senior Carlbe Ervin canned one and freshman Xavier Sneed sunk two of his own, and the result was a quick 13-0 run for an early 23-13 lead.
It wasn’t as ambitious as K-State’s 21-0 stretch Tuesday night, but it was the difference against Hampton — the Wildcats finished with nine threes in the first half and three in the second, and Iwundu said K-State’s confidence only grew with each bomb.
“Once they’re falling early like that, your confidence goes out the roof,” he said. “You have no choice but to shoot more, and once you make more, you’re good for the rest of the game.”
Iwundu was joined in double figures by sophomore Barry Brown, Sneed and Stokes, who totaled 16, 15 and 13, respectively.
Iwundu also posted six rebounds and three assists, perhaps his best outing on the young 3-0 season thus far. He cited an unusual source for motivation.
“I give credit to Hampton’s bench,” Iwundu said. “They (were) over there talking a little trash; kind of sparked things up.”
The Wildcats were all but unconscious from beyond the arc, but in an odd twist, K-State struggled to hit shots even closer to the rim — from the free-throw line. The Wildcats finished just 21-of-38 from the charity stripe.
“It was definitely an awkward situation to be on fire from behind the arc but miss free throws,” Iwundu said. “We’ve got to get back in the gym and work on our free throws.”
Connecting on nine first-half threes was an impressive mark for K-State, but because the Wildcats saw limited offensive elsewhere and Hampton’s Jermaine Marrow tallied 14 points, K-State’s 10-point halftime lead was far from safe.
The Wildcats led the Pirates by 11 and 12 points for the first few minutes of the second stanza, until K-State ripped off yet another 13-0 run, ballooning its lead to 75-51.
That, on top of a different approach to Marrow, carried K-State to the win. Weber switched Iwundu onto the Hampton guard in the second half, and Marrow managed just a single point the rest of the way.
“We’ve talked about who’s going to be our defensive stoppers, and Barry and Wes have argued back and forth that they’re the best one,” Weber said. “I hope Xavier becomes that, also.”
Sophomore Dean Wade exited with a solid showing on the defensive end too, though not in the steals or blocks departments. Wade totaled eight rebounds, on top of eight points, and after a sluggish first two games, Iwundu was glad to see his teammate’s performance.
Two of Wade’s points came on a breakaway flush to open the second half.
“I try to tell him not to worry too much about scoring. He does all the little things, the scoring will come eventually,” Iwundu said. “We know what he’s capable of; he knows what he’s capable of.”
The Wildcats are slated to host Robert Morris Tuesday before a trip to New York on Thursday to conclude the Barclays Center Classic, an excursion Iwundu knows both he and his team are ready for.
“We’re looking to make a statement. This is a business trip for us,” Iwundu said. “We want to go out there and win some games, and come back feeling good about ourselves.”