We’ve all been waiting for Kansas State’s seniors, especially Welsey Iwundu, to take control of a game down the stretch.
It finally happened at the perfect time for the Wildcats Tuesday night against Wake Forest. The talented, versatile senior came ready to lead, clearly aware of his athletic advantage against the Demon Deacons. He got to the bucket almost at will and found he could shoot over smaller defenders, occasionally settling for a tough jumper on his way to 24 points, 6 rebounds and 7 assists.
Fellow senior D.J. Johnson did what he’s done his whole career, quietly playing harder than anyone else, probably through more pain than most players on the floor, although we may never hear about it. He finished with 18 points, 6 rebounds and 3 blocks. He also taught John Collins — a very good offensive big man who got hot in the second half to finish with 22 points and 9 rebounds — he still has some growing up to do if he wants to become a dominant inside force at the next level.
Johnson and Iwundu will play at least one more game in purple uniforms thanks to a 95-88 win over Wake Forest. An interesting score when you consider most people said Oklahoma State was the best Big 12 comparison for the Demon Deacons, and the ‘Cats beat the Pokes 96-88 in Stillwater.
Kansas State exploited a weak Wake defense by consistently attacking the basket right from the start, opening up a 4-0 lead. Even two quick fouls that sent Dean Wade to the bench until halftime couldn't slow down the 'Cats offense, which also took advantage of several Demon Deacons turnovers to get plenty of easy baskets. Seriously, that defense is just as atrocious as the advanced stats say it is.
Early in the second half Kansas State actually hit some tough shots and Kamau Stokes got a couple friendly bounces on 3-pointers, but that would be somewhat of a rarity. Shooting 66 percent from the field is a lot easier when you play smart and half those shots are layups. The ‘Cats only made 6-of-16 from beyond the arc.
K-State found a way to stop Wake Forest from getting into the paint at the other end and mostly containing Collins, who only had 8 points and 4 rebounds at half. Unfortunately, his team still stayed close by hitting a few threes and more importantly, drawing plenty of fouls then making 17 of 18 free throws before halftime, including their first 12.
Too many sloppy passes on offense contributed to K-State's inability to pull away in the 1st half, often without much pressure from Wake. The recent struggles of Kamau Stokes to take care of the ball still loom as a concern going forward, though he continued to make up for it with huge shots, making two 3-pointers and four free throws in the final five minutes to keep the ‘Cats in front.
Any semblance of an offensive drought turned into a Demon Deacons run, as they showed why they’re one of the top 10 most efficient offenses in the country. They’ve got a lot of great shooters, although Kansas State guarded the perimeter relatively well to hold Wake to 9-of-27 from beyond the arc.
Once again, a certain group on Kansas State Twitter took to complaining and almost expecting a blown lead any time things began to go south in the final ten minutes. I need to stress again that despite the Big 12 semifinals, the ‘Cats have shown they can stay poised and prevent comebacks against Baylor, Texas, West Virginia and Oklahoma State, and now Wake Forest. It does happen.
Hopefully K-State will have another lead to protect on Friday when it meets 6 seed Cincinnati at approximately 6:27 Central Time, once again on TruTV. We’ll let Wes have the last word, from his postgame television interview.
“We like being the underdogs. We’re coming out with a fight.”