MANHATTAN — Trying to establish a defensive mindset and identity, Kansas State’s basketball team took its game to a new level.
K-State tied a 41-year-old school record with 19 steals and converted the takeaways into easy points to defeat Northern Arizona 80-58 on Monday at Bramlage Coliseum.
The Wildcats tied the steals record established against Tulane in 1976 when the team still played in Ahearn Fieldhouse. Northern Arizona committed 31 turnovers and the Cats scored 38 points off turnovers.
“That’s our M.O. right now,” said guard Barry Brown, who led the way with six steals and scored most of his game-high 20 points on turnover breakaways. “That’s what we have to continue to do in order to put ourselves in position to win games.
“The scouting reports have been excellent. Our guys are really focused in on that scouting report and when we go through plays we take away their tendencies. Credit our coaches and credit our players for being dialed in.”
K-State (4-0) opened the game with a pair of 3-pointers from Kamau Stokes and Xavier Sneed while the Lumberjacks (0-4) had turnovers on their first two touches, the first on a shot-clock violation.
“We always talk about stop, score, stop,” Wildcats coach Bruce Weber said. “You do that and it’s 2-0, do it again and it’s 4-0. When you can steal easy baskets literally off steals it eases the pressure off our half-court offense.”
The Wildcats pulled away early with a 20-3 run that gave them a 29-12 lead at the 8:20 mark of the first half. At that point, the Wildcats had 18 points off 12 UNA turnovers.
“It starts on the defensive end,” said Dean Wade, who had 15 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 5 steals on his 21st birthday. “We got a whole bunch of steals and that leads to their defense being slow coming back and layups.
“That’s why our main focus is defense, to get easy buckets. Stealing a few layups early in the game builds your confidence.”
K-State led 43-27 at halftime, scored the first six points of the second half and cruised to the finish line.
“You stretch out that lead and get runs,” Weber said. “When you can steal easy baskets, literally off steals, it eases the pressure off our half-court offense.”
Stokes scored 16 points with 3 steals, 2 assists and no turnovers and Sneed had 12 points, 4 rebounds, 7 assists and 2 steals.
“Some pretty good numbers,” Weber said. “I was a little disappointed in the bench, but they’re the younger guys and that’s why we go through these games. They have to learn about preparation and get ready and play every game.”
Torry Johnson scored 20 points for the Lumberjacks, who out-rebounded the Wildcats 36-28.
The Wildcats have have four runaway victories but the schedule gets tougher as they depart Tuesday for the Las Vegas Invitational, facing Arizona State on Thursday and either No. 15 Xavier or George Washington on Friday.
“We did some good things but as a coach I told them after that I still expect more of them,” Weber said. “I didn’t think we were quite as sharp as I would have liked. I expect more because I think we have more there.”