DAYTON, Ohio — Wesley Iwundu is putting the team on his back.
Iwundu is a loss away from the end of his Kansas State career, but he isn’t ready to see the journey stop just yet.
For the last month or so, Iwundu has been harping on his teammates to play like it was their last game. There’s no better way to stress that than leading by example.
That’s what he did against Wake Forest on Tuesday, scoring 24 points, dishing seven assists and grabbing six rebounds to lead the Wildcats to a 95-88 win in the First Four.
“I’m an older guy, a lot more experienced,” Iwundu said. “I know at this time of the year guys got to step up and be leaders, especially the older guys. I took it upon myself to just be the guy out there.”
K-State coach Bruce Weber said he tracks it back to the last 12 or so games. Iwundu’s eye contact with him increased. His focus when dealing with coaches has changed. His play on the court improved, too.
Weber said Iwundu could have left with other players years ago, but stayed the course with the program and never stopped buying in. This season is the big payoff for the senior.
As long as the Wildcats keep playing in the tournament because of Iwundu, there could be other benefits.
“I told him this is about his career,” Weber said. “If he has success and we win, people are going to notice.”
At least for now, that doesn’t seem to be at the forefront of Iwundu’s mentality.
After Iwundu led his team to victory and was one of four players scoring in double figures, he was thinking about the potential the Wildcats have to make noise in the NCAA tournament.
“We’re a dangerous team,” he said. “We know how good we are. We’ve got a lot of guys that can do a lot of things. The numbers prove that. Numbers don’t lie.”
K-State didn’t seem to be the focus of national attention against Wake Forest. The pregame was made up of mentions of Demon Deacon coach Danny Manning and his star forward, John Collins. Even at halftime, the broadcast team outlined exactly how Wake Forest could come back to beat the Wildcats and advance.
Iwundu knew what was being said about the Wildcats’ opponents and that his team might have been overlooked. It only gave him more reason to steer K-State to a win.
“It’s nothing new,” Iwundu said. “We’re always going to be the underdogs. No matter how good we play, no matter who we beat, we’re still going to be the underdogs. That’s what motivates us to go out there and win games.”
Iwundu did everything he could to make sure the Wildcats advanced on Tuesday, and his teammates expect the senior to keep putting the team on his back until the journey comes to a close.
“He stepped up,” sophomore guard Kamau Stokes said. “He made plays when we needed it — got stops when we needed it. He’s one of our seniors. He’s playing like it’s his last game.”