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Stifling defense leads K-State to easy win over Green Bay

Barry Brown posted 18 points, his 7th straight game scoring in double figures.

NCAA Basketball: Big 12 Conference Tournament-Kansas State vs Oklahoma State Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

When Wesley Iwundu caught a pass on the baseline Wednesday night, he stood at the three-point line, all alone.

Freshman or sophomore Iwundu — heck, maybe even junior Iwundu — would have launched a three, but no Green Bay defenders stood in his way, not within 15 feet. The lane was his for a basket, whichever way he felt was best.

He caught the pass and immediately pedaled for the rim, and he flushed it. Vehemently.

Iwundu finished with 11 points, and the dunk was probably outdone by sophomore Barry Brown’s skying slam, but no matter. The Wildcats totaled four flushes Wednesday against Green Bay, and with the help of a staunch defensive showing, K-State ran away with an 80-61 win in Manhattan.

The dunks, though, weren’t the only hard-nosed, plays of grandeur the Wildcats recorded Wednesday. Senior D.J. Johnson tallied four blocks, all of them ardent rejections of trying Phoenix, and all of them a microcosm of the beatdown K-State put on Green Bay on defense. The visitors converted on just 35 percent of the shots they hoisted.

“I wrote on the board, ‘Begin defining yourself as a team.’ I think the defense has got to be the No. 1 thing,” head coach Bruce Weber said. “It’s got to be something we take a lot of pride in.”

It sure looked like it Wednesday, as evidenced by a ‘17’ in the Green Bay turnover column. Both Iwundu and senior Carlbe Ervin recorded three steals apiece, and Brown snatched up two of his own. K-State turned Phoenix turnovers into 22 points, many of them transition baskets that buried Green Bay into the hole it did its share to dig itself.

Turner Botz was the high-scorer for the Phoenix, totaling 11 points. In second was Jamar Hurdle with nine, and most of the rest of the visiting squad scored in the five, six and seven range, only exposing the machine that was the K-State defense Wednesday night.

Brown, who has now scored in double figures in all of K-State’s seven games this season, said the work the Wildcats put in scouting Green Bay paid dividends.

“We had a lot of good defense today,” Brown said. “We watched a lot of film and tried to take things away. The coaches do a good job of telling us what’s going to happen before it happens, and we’re able to see it during the game.”

On the subject of Brown, though, it’s difficult to say too much. His 18 points Wednesday tied a season-high, as he carded 18 in K-State’s season-opener against Western Illinois as well. He was also responsible for outdoing Iwundu in the dunk department.

“I wasn’t even going to dunk it, but then I (saw the defender) didn’t really run back,” Brown said of his second-half jam that ignited a 9-0 K-State run. “Might as well just try.”

The consistency Brown has brought to the table in each of the Wildcats’ games in 2016 — including Saturday’s loss to Maryland, K-State’s first loss of the season — has been a welcome addition to Weber’s squad, one that has often struggled to score in years past.

This year? It’s only seven games old, but the offensive picture K-State has sketched looks considerably better than the portraits the Wildcats have scrawled since Weber arrived in 2013.

“(Brown) has been the most consistent; he’s been in the gym the most. I don’t know if he’ll be in there tonight, but almost every night, he’s in there,” Weber said. “And that’s why he’s making shots.”

The good news for K-State balloons even wider: numerous other Wildcats have matched Brown’s scoring output, often in the same game. On its way to a 6-1 record, K-State has seen either three or four players score in double figures in each game this season.

It makes Weber’s story of a Panera Bread cashier complimenting his team’s versatility seem even more deserving.

And considering both sophomores Dean Wade and Kamau Stokes were on the cusp of double figures with eight points Wednesday, K-State’s offense seems to be evolving for the better.

“Four guys in double figures, I think two with eight,” Weber said. “I keep talking about six guys in double figures; that’s the kind of versatility we should have.”

But only a few of the baskets K-State threaded would have been feasible without the 20 assists the Wildcats dished out — on 30 shots, a ratio Weber said his team should shoot for nightly. Iwundu’s five dimes led K-State, followed closely by Stokes and Ervin, who both registered four.

The slick offensive showing comes against a non-conference opponent in November, but nonetheless, Weber liked what he saw on the offensive end.

“My real good teams — the Sweet Sixteens, Final Fours, Big 10 champions, Big 12 champions, Missouri Valley champions — they shared the ball,” Weber said. “Our team at Illinois, the media started creating a stat that they never talked about: assists per field goal. We’d have 60, 70 percent every game. And that’s what made that team hard to guard; I think if we’re going to move forward, that’ll make us tough to guard.”

K-State gets its next test, in both offensive and defensive respects, in its first true road game on Saturday at Saint Louis. It’s a homecoming for both Johnson and freshman Xavier Sneed, who hail from the St. Louis area.

But that’s what Weber hopes neither Sneed nor any of his players get caught up in — their personal wish lists. Naturally, the head coach wants the focus to be on winning a road game, not personal accolades.

“I think the big thing is (that) D.J. and Xavier have got to forget about their own agendas and worry about K-State,” Weber said. “The best thing they can do is help us win the game, and we go home happy and get a road win.”