KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It started and ended with defense and rebounding.
That, it turned out, was good enough.
Kansas State locked down defensively, battled a much taller Vanderbilt team to a standoff on the boards and, in between, made enough shots Saturday night to knock off the Commodores, 69-58, at the Sprint Center.
It was a dominating performance by the Wildcats, who never trailed and led by as many as 22 points in the second half before holding off a Vandy rally down the stretch.
The Wildcats, who improved to 9-2, held Vanderbilt to 31.9 percent shooting for the game and were outrebounded just 35-34 despite the absence of injured power forward Dean Wade.
“It was something I put on the board,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said of the defensive effort. “They’re long, they’re talented, they’re athletic. Without Dean (Wade), it gives them a definite advantage with size and athleticism, but we talked about doing it as a group — fighting for rebounds.”
The Wildcats had their own struggles offensively, shooting 41.4 percent, but never let Vanderbilt off the hook. By the time the Commodores (7-3), made their first field goal of the second half — a three-point play by Simisola Shittu with 9:41 left — K-State had already built a 49-27 advantage.
“We’re kind of like four guards out there now, and so it’s kind of easier for us to switch and just keep a body on a body,” said K-State guard Barry Brown, who with his three steals broke the school career record with 211. “When Dean’s out there, he’s an experienced guy — big, athletic, can block shots and has been in the program for a while so he knows the system.
“Knowing that he’s out, we’ve just got to keep flying around. We did a great job, especially in the first few possessions of the first half, flying around and making them take tough shots.”
With the 6-foot-10 Wade sidelined, the Wildcats also got a big game from the only big man in the starting lineup, as junior Makol Mawien scored a season-high 15 points to lead four players in double figures. He also grabbed five rebounds.
“It’s a good feeling, knowing Dean’s out and he’s a good scorer for us — all stats, really,” said Mawien, who made all five of his first-half shots in helping K-State to a 30-20 lead at the break. “Coach talked about me being more exact and stuff and we need people to step up, so I did today. I was just more vocal today.”
Perhaps more important than the scoring was Mawien’s defensive effort against Vanderbilt big man Shittu, a 6-10 freshman, who came in leading the Commodores with 15.1 points and 7.7 rebounds a game. Shittu was just 3 of 9 from the field for 10 points and had seven rebounds.
Xavier Sneed, who at 6-5 has moved to the power forward slot in the four-guard lineup, came up with a second straight big game on the boards, grabbing a team high nine to go with seven points and four assists.
“We’ve been on him about (rebounding),” Weber said of Sneed. “Some stat, we’re number one teams holding teams (from) offensive rebounding, and I’m not sure how the heck they figured (that) out, but hopefully it means we’ve made improvement from a year ago, which is crucial for us to move forward and have a chance, especially getting into the league.”
K-State got off to a fast start in each half and took control with a 10-1 run early in the second period to lead 42-23 on Austin Trice’s dunk with 13:48 left. A Mawien 3-pointer pushed the advantage to 44-25 at the 11:50 mark.
Vanderbilt made a run down the stretch, starting with Shittu’s three-point play that cut it to 19 and sparked a 16-2 Commodore run. Matt Ryan’s two free throws with 6:14 to go made it 51-43, but K-State answered with two Cartier Diarra free throws and a Mawien rebound basket and it got no closer than nine the rest of the way.
In addition to Mawien, K-State got 12 points each from Brown and Kamau Stokes, with Diarra adding 10 in his second start of the season. Stokes had five assists.
Ryan had 14 points and Joe Toye 11 for Vanderbilt, with Yanni Wetzel scoring eight and grabbing nine rebounds.