It could have been the last game in K-State purple for Wesley Iwundu, D.J. Johnson, and Carlbe Ervin II, as the Wildcats played Wake Forest in the First Four Tuesday in Dayton.
Collectively, emphatically, the seniors said, “Not tonight!”
Together, they combined for 17-of-21 shooting from the floor, 14-of-17 shooting from the free-throw line, and 49 points, and the Wildcats defeated the Demon Deacons, 95-88.
In the first half, Carlbe continued his recent trend of playing like someone 5 inches taller than he really is, grabbing offensive rebounds and scoring points in the paint. Foul trouble limited him in the second half, but he finished the game with 7 points, 4 rebounds, and an assist.
D.J. played to the high level we know he can play. He was absolutely nails on offense, turning beautiful post moves into baskets and tipping misses back in for more points. At the defensive end, he was responsible for guarding highly touted forward John Collins. While Collins got his points — 26 of them — D.J. made him work hard for it in a game where it was clear Wake Forest needed everything it could get out of its sophomore star. D.J. had to let up some on defense in the second half, as he got into foul trouble late, but during a first half where the Wildcats were plagued by fouls, he stayed out of trouble and kept himself available. D.J. finished the game with 18 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 blocks.
In the most important game of his career, where the team needed him the most, Wes came through in a big, big way. His 24 points were a career-best, and they came with 6 rebounds, 7 assists, and a steal. Wes seemed to see the game phenomenally well, setting up teammates for easy baskets with great passes and finding the cutting lanes for a couple of thunderous dunks. He also was the only non-Kamau Stokes Wildcat to make a three-pointer in the game.
Story of the Game
In the first half, the story was K-State’s points in the paint vs. Wake Forest’s three-pointers and free-throws. At one point in the half, K-State led points in the paint 20-2. In the second half, it was the Wildcats fending off the Demon Deacons’ efforts to take the lead. There were many times where K-State’s lead was precarious, dipping to a one-possession game, but the Wildcats always answered, finishing with an astounding 66 percent field goal percentage.
Stat of the Game — 0:36
K-State only trailed in this game for 36 seconds, from the time Wake Forest took a 13-11 lead on a pair of free throws by Brandon Childress until D.J. scored on K-State’s next possession (a possession extended by an offensive rebound by Ervin).
Play of the Game
With 4:14 left in the game, Wes drove the lane, took a difficult shot, drew a foul, made the shot, then completed the old-fashioned three-point play to extend K-State’s lead to 78-70. That marked the point that it became the Wildcats’ game to lose.
Player of the Game
It couldn’t be anyone other than Wes, leading the team in scoring, rebounding, and assists. It was the kind of performance kids dream of, playing their best when it matters most.
Kamau Stokes was ruthless from outside the three-point arc, shooting 5-of-8 from three and drawing a foul on a missed three (making all three free throws). He ended the night with 22 points, second-best in the sophomore’s career (only his 24 points against North Carolina in his fifth game at K-State are better). Barry Brown contributed 14 points, with all of his field goals coming from two-point range. Dean Wade sat for most of the first half after a pair of quick fouls but still racked up 8 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 assists. The team will rely heavily on those three next season, as the Wildcats have no scholarship juniors.
Head coach Bruce Weber got his first NCAA Tournament victory of his time at K-State. Weber had a plan, and the players executed it well, attacking Wake Forest’s shaky defense in the paint early and often.
The game was K-State’s first matchup ever against Wake Forest, but Demon Deacons head coach Danny Manning has been a thorn in K-State’s side in three different decades with the Kansas Jayhawks. He was a star for the Jayhawks in the late 1980s and an assistant coach under Bill Self from 2006-2012 before getting his first head coaching job. For once, K-State got to end Manning’s season.