There are no guarantee victories in college athletics. K-State men’s basketball learned that the hard way a season ago after opening their campaign with a two-point loss to Northern Colorado.
More than a year removed from that defeat, K-State made sure history would not repeat itself, topping Southern Utah 98-68 in their season opener Friday at Bramlage Coliseum.
K-State’s 98 points were the most scored under head coach Bruce Weber in three years at the helm of the Wildcats. K-State also set single-game highs under Weber for field-goal percent (58.7) and three-point percentage (55.6).
“I thought our guys did a good job, especially at the start of the second half, of being focused,” Weber said after the game. “We’ve talked after that last game, I was really disappointed — we’d get up 12 or 15, then we took bad shots and made bad decisions. (Tonight we were) much more patient and shared the basketball — obviously we shot it pretty well too.”
K-State senior forward Thomas Gipson, who missed last year’s opener, set the tone Friday with 17 points and six rebounds. Sophomore guard Marcus Foster added 13 points and two rebounds himself. Sophomore guard Nigel Johnson led all scorers with 18 points on 5-8 shooting. As a team, K-State (1-0, 0-0) shot 58.7 percent from the field and completed 34 of 48 freebies from the line.
“We have a lot of weapons on the offense end,” Gipson said. “We play good defense too. We have a chance to win the Big 12.”
The Wildcats used a 22-8 run early in the second half to pull away from the Thunder Birds after leading 44-36 at the half. Six-foot-11-inch junior transfer Stephen Hurt hit a three pointer with 18:26 in the second half to extend K-State’s lead to double digits. With the bucket, Hurt tied former K-State player Shawn Rhoads as the tallest Wildcats to make a three pointer.
Hurt finished the game with 11 points and three rebounds. Fellow transfers Brandon Bolden and Justin Edwards combined for 17 points on 5-9 shooting. Bolden also finished an emphatic two-handed dunk with 9:12 left in the game to put the Wildcats up by 33.
Freshman Tre Harris also provided a spark of energy off the bench. Harris was good three times from behind the line, finishing the contest with 13 points, two rebounds and an assist.
“You have more weapons,” Weber said of his transfers and Harris. “Obviously we still don’t have Wesley (Iwundu), Malek (Harris) and Nino (Williams) here, but hopefully it gives us a lot more depth. We’re a long way from where we need to be, and it’ll be evolving as we get people back.”
Southern Utah kept the contest close in the first half thanks in part to pulling down eight offensive rebounds while forcing 10 K-State turnovers. Thunder Bird junior guard A.J. Hess hit three-consecutive three pointers in a span of two minutes to tie the game at 24. Hess finished the game with 16 points and five three pointers in the Thunder Bird’s loss to the Wildcats.
“I think the negative was on the boards, obviously rebounding — it was a factor,” Weber said. “We’ve played small, we’ve played big, guards got to come back and get some boards … The turnovers, I thought a lot of them were carless, casual stuff, then also not knowing where everyone was going and things like that. It was a little disappointing that we didn’t execute as much in the first half as we could have.”
K-State will return to action on Monday against UMKC. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. from Bramlage Coliseum.