After beating Gonzaga last Saturday, the Kansas State men’s basketball team felt like it had established itself as one of the top defensive teams in the nation.
Ranked in the top 10 in numerous defensive categories, the Wildcats looked as stingy as ever on Saturday, slamming Tulane 72-41 and holding the Green Wave to 10 points in the first half at the Barclays Center in the Brooklyn Winter Hoops Festival in New York.
It was the seventh straight win for the Wildcats, who started the season 2-3.
K-State (9-3) jumped out to a 19-3 lead with 3-pointers from Shane Southwell, Nigel Johnson, Omari Lawrence and Will Spradling. The Wildcats pushed their lead out to 24-8 before going ahead 28-10 for the last 2 1/2 minutes of the first half and into halftime.
“We guarded the heck out of them,” coach Bruce Weber said in his postgame radio show. “They can score. They got going a little bit in the second half, but we keep this attitude, this foundation of guarding hard.”
Things didn’t go any better for the Green Wave in the second half, as the Wildcats wasted little time stretching their lead out to 20 points at 41-21. Tulane wouldn’t come any closer than 15 points from K-State lead the rest of the way.
Southwell, who led the team with a career-high19 points, said it was a big win for the team as they get ready to conclude the non-conference schedule against George Washington at home on Tuesday.
“We wanted to go out there and jump on them early,” he said. “Coach says all the time we’re the best defensive first half team in the country, and we proved that. We want to go undefeated for December, and we have a tough game against George Washington coming up. It’s going to be tough.”
The Wildcats were paced by a 12 for 27 night from the perimeter, led by five made 3s from Southwell and three from Johnson.
Weber said they took what the Tulane defense was giving them and it paid off.
“I think the big key is to shoot rhythm 3s,” he said. “We told Shane he was going to be wide open the way they guard. You’ve just got to shoot it with rhythm. (Going) 12 for 27, that’s a lot of 3s, but that’s what they give you.”
The number of 3s and the defense also gave K-State plenty of chances at offensive rebounds. K-state won the rebounding battle 41-36, and had 21 offensive boards. K-State moved to 29-2 under Weber when winning the rebounding battle, and 9-1 this season.
The game also featured the much-anticipated debut of point guard Jevon Thomas, who had been ineligible until Dec. 21. Playing in his hometown, Thomas scored two points in 19 minutes on the floor, and had four assists and two rebounds.
After practicing just a few times this week, Weber said it was the perfect situation to get Thomas plenty of time on the court.
“The game, the score, it definitely helped us,” he said. “My mental goal, I wanted to get him 10 minutes. When we got the lead, some foul trouble, it allowed us to play him 20 minutes. The thing he’s going to bring is he can really guard. We wore down their guard and he’s pretty good. (Thomas) can really push the ball and he’s really unselfish.”
Southwell, who was Thomas’ first assist recipient of his career, said it was good to get him involved as much as they did.
“It was really great to see him out there,” he said. “He was so excited to get that first basket. He’s going to have a great season, a great career at K-State.”
Past Southwell’s 19 points, Johnson finished with 13 with three 3-pointers. Wesley Iwundu had nine points and Thomas Gipson had seven rebounds.
The Wildcats were just 6 of 8 from the free-throw line, while Tulane made 12 of 20 attempts.
The Wildcats held Tulane’s three starting guards, who had been averaging nearly 50 combined points per game, to just 28 points on 8-of-26 shooting. The 41 points for Tulane were a season low.