This is what happens when Kansas State gets hot.
The normally cold-shooting Wildcats made offense look easy Tuesday night at Bramlage Coliseum during an 83-70 victory against Texas Tech. They poured in shots from all angles and distances, and subsequently thumped the Red Raiders on the way to their first conference victory.
Everything about the result was a welcome change for K-State, which entered the day making a league low 42 percent of its shots and had also lost three in a row.
The Wildcats, 11-5 overall and 1-3 in the Big 12, looked like a new team from the opening tip, making 56 percent of their shots and racing to a 17-point lead. Texas Tech coach Tubby Smith seemed shocked by K-State’s efficiency. He was continually seen shaking his head and staring at the ground as the Red Raiders, 11-4 and 1-3, fell further and further behind.
“I was very impressed by Kansas State’s shooting tonight,” Smith said. “They started off hot and we never could recover from their barrage of three-point shots.”
K-State notebook: Point guard Carlbe Ervin earns praise from coach
It was a welcome sight for K-State Bruce Weber. For weeks, he has been saying K-State has the playmakers to score at a high level. They simply weren’t making open shots. On Tuesday, the Wildcats proved their coach right.
“When you make shots it helps,” Weber said. “It changes the whole dynamic of the game. We were able to make some threes in the first half and a couple in the second half. That has not been our forte by any means. But the big thing I have been talking about with our guys is getting in the gym and getting shots up. They made some progress.”
They were at their best in the first half when they made 7 of their first 9 from three-point range and took a 47-31 halftime lead.
Freshman point guard Kamau Stokes was the hottest K-State shooter, ending the first half a perfect 5 for 5 from the field while sinking four three-pointers. His biggest shot came on the final possession of the first half when he banked home a fade-away three as the buzzer sounded. Stokes finished with 17 points.
But Barry Brown was equally strong. The freshman guard came off the bench to make his first three three-pointers and score 15 points.
Wesley Iwundu added 17 points while battling foul trouble, while Justin Edwards added 11 and Dean Wade had 10. It was a balanced effort the Wildcats. All nine players that logged minutes scored.
“It is always a lot of fun when you are making shots and executing and playing good defense,” Stokes said. “That helps, because it helps you get on in the fast break. We had a lot of fast-break points in this game, 18 in total. It always helps and makes it fun.”
K-State needed all those contributions. This was arguably the Wildcats’ most important game of the season. Few criticized them for dropping their first three conference games — as underdogs against No. 11 West Virginia, at Texas and at No. 2 Oklahoma — but they were favored at home against the Red Raiders.
This is clearly the best team Smith has coached since arriving at Texas Tech. The Red Raiders are ranked 13th in the RPI standings. Still, K-State could ill afford a loss with No. 17 Iowa State up next on Saturday and a trip to No. 22 Baylor after that.
Weber and his players understood the importance of this game, and they followed through with one of their best performances.
“We have been feeling all week like this is a very important game,” Iwundu said. “I mean, every game is important but this one was really, really important. This is a two-game home stand, and you have to protect home court. These are must-win games.”
It wasn’t free of errors, as Texas Tech did put pressure on K-State early in the second half, cutting the Wildcats’ lead down to as low as 57-52 with 11:02 to go behind 23 points from Justin Gray. But K-State was quick to answer with a 13-2 run.
Brown made a driving layup, D.J. Johnson made two free throws, Wade hit a three, Edwards made a transition layup and Brown finished the spurt with a dunk that gave K-State a 70-54 lead. Texas Tech called a timeout with 7:27 to go, and was unable to recover.
K-State was too good on offense to let his one slip away.
“We talked about executing when it came down to the gut check part of the game,” Weber said. “And we did that. Tubby has a good team. You have to earn it. We did.”