With an entirely new coaching staff leading an experienced unit for K-State in its season opening exhibition against Washburn, the Wildcats flexed muscles new and old in their 81-61 victory over the Ichabods.
Just how many conclusions can be drawn from the performance is up for grabs, but the Wildcats quickly answered the question of whether the NCAA Division II No. 4 Ichabods could pull off an upset.
“Overall, you’re pleased,” head coach Bruce Weber said, “because you don’t know, in this first game, how the guys are going to react. I thought they came ready to play, and that’s your first challenge. I think the coaches did a good job of preparing them and understanding how good Washburn is; they’re good.”
After taking over the Wildcat program, Weber discussed building a team that could run and get up and down the floor. The Wildcats were able to take that approach and put together a performance of 19 assists and a 46-39 edge on rebounds.
The Wildcats built an early 22-2 advantage and showed off some of the offensive speed that came with Weber’s coaching reputation.
“Earlier, the radio guys asked, ‘Are you going to play that fast all the time?’” Weber said. “Well, we were shutting people down and got in transition, and that’s what you want to do. Now you got to make good decisions, and I thought, for the most part, we made pretty good decisions — made some shots and we made the extra pass.”
Sophomore forward Nino Williams came off the bench first and scored 14 points while adding nine rebounds.
Along with senior center Jordan Henriquez and freshman forward D.J. Johnson, the trio anchored the paint and kept a strong Washburn frontcourt in check for much of the game.
“Overall, Nino has been very active for us,” Weber said. “He gives us a different look. Then you’ve got your big guys. Jordan had pretty good numbers. D.J. Johnson just plays hard. I don’t think he knows what he’s doing but he plays hard and it’s positive.”
As the most experienced big man returning this season, it’ll be important for Henriquez to build off of his season debut.
The senior center fought tough on the boards pulling down nine on the night, and he said it felt good to get the season started.
“It felt good, just knowing it’s my last first game of the season,” Henriquez said. “So I just wanted to come out and leave it all out on the floor. Coach preaches to us about consistency, and that’s what it’s all about right now. Just continuing to play hard and play together.”
Weber said it’ll be important for the Wildcats to maintain their energy level but to remember who they are and what the focus is moving forward.
“We told them right before we went out; we had some bullet points and focus points, but I just said, ‘Play hard,’” Weber said. “If you’re a basketball player, be a basketball player. Play basketball and then have fun. Go and enjoy each other; have fun and play.”
The Wildcats will take on Emporia State on Sunday in their second exhibition with tipoff slated for 1:05 pm.