Wildcats handle Long Beach State
By ARNE GREEN
Special to The HDN
MANHATTAN - The Kansas State Wildcats have come a long way in the 10 days since their season opener.
Then again, they didn't set the bar very high with a loss to Northern Colorado.
But after handling Oral Roberts in the next outing, the Wildcats imposed their will on Long Beach State from the start Sunday afternoon, jumping on the 49ers early and rolling to a 71-58 victory at Bramlage Coliseum.
"We've stressed making improvement, making strides each day, each practice, so that we can keep getting better," K-State coach Bruce Weber said after watching his Wildcats build a 23-point lead early in the second half and cruise the rest of the way. "We're a new team, a lot of different pieces that have to be figured out - roles - and hopefully they're starting to figure that out.
"The effort and the emotion was so much better."
Freshman guard Marcus Foster continued to lead the way with a game-high 17 points, including four 3-pointers. Better yet, seniors Shane Southwell, Will Spradling and Omari Lawrence stepped up their games at Weber's behest.
Southwell, who had just 14 points on 26.5 percent shooting the first two games, doubled his season total against Long Beach with 14 and a pair of 3-pointers, plus led the Wildcats with six rebounds. Lawrence added 10 points and three steals, while Spradling had eight points, six assists, five rebounds and no turnovers.
"I really think, no matter if they're not scoring, they carry the load no matter what," Foster said of the seniors. "If it's defense or talking to us, I feel they're always carrying the load."
Weber especially liked what he saw from Lawrence.
"I've got to compliment Omari," he said. "He's starting to figure out if he plays with great energy, enthusiasm and talking, good things will happen.
"But (the seniors) have still got to get better."
Long Beach State coach Don Monson, whose 49ers fell to 1-3, definitely saw the improvement.
"I would say they're going in the right direction," he said. "Obviously I've watched all three of their games and they've gotten better every game.
"I think this was their best game of the three."
Unlike the Oral Roberts game, where they had to rally from a 16-4 deficit, the Wildcats hit Long Beach early and never let the 49ers back in the game. It started with a Wesley Iwundu dunk on a lob pass from Foster and a Southwell 3-pointer, and when Nino Williams completed a three-point play with 12:09 left in the half it was 17-7.
"I felt like they dominated us with their defensive pressure early," Monson said. "We never got any flow until the game was over."
Southwell's second 3-pointer, with 5:51 to go in the half, stretched the lead to 29-10. And after Long Beach threatened to make a game of it with a 7-2 spurt, Foster drained back-to-back threes that pushed the advantage to 20.
"I came out a little sluggish (instead of) having the usual intensity I bring to the game, so I came to the bench and Coach told me I needed to pick it up and play hard," said Foster, who had just three free throws in the first 17-plus minutes. "When I got my chance to go back in I just played hard and my shot started to fall."
The Wildcats led 39-22 at halftime and got two more Foster 3-pointers in the first 3.5 minutes of the second period to lead 49-26 with 16:39 left. Long Beach got no closer than 14 until David Samuels made a three for the final points of the game.
Forward Dan Jennings had 14 points and 12 rebounds to lead Long Beach State, with guard A.J. Spencer adding 13. Spencer, a transfer from Hutchinson Community College, is the son of Tyrone Clincy, a member of Salina Central's 1983 state championship team.
K-State next goes on the road to San Juan, Puerto Rico, to face Charlotte on Thursday in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.