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Northern Colorado stuns K-State, 60-58

By Joel Jellison

Maybe season-opening games after winning a Big 12 title just isn’t Kansas State’s thing this season.

As far back as the summer, K-State men’s basketball coach Bruce Weber said he was telling his team just how challenging the game against Northern Colorado could be in November. When K-State’s football team lost its opener to North Dakota State, Weber reminded his team about the upcoming game with Northern Colorado.

The Wildcats should have listened, because on Friday night, Weber’s warning turned into reality, as Northern Colorado stunned K-State, 60-58, at Bramlage Coliseum.

It was K-State’s first season-opening loss in 10 years. It was also the Wildcats’ third straight loss, going back to last season’s back-to-back losses in the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments.

“I really emphasized after football lost to North Dakota State how important this first game was, to be ready and to be prepared,” Weber said. “We have a saying in our locker room up on the wall, ‘what’s greater, your excuses or your desire?’ and we have too many excuses and not enough desire.”

K-State (0-1) lost on Friday for a number of reasons, starting with bad shooting. The Wildcats shot 33 percent from the floor, including just 2 of 19 from behind the arc. K-State was just 16 of 33 from the free-throw line.

The Wildcats’ poor shooting was all the visiting Bears (1-0) needed. Northern Colorado trailed by five at halftime and then used a 13-3 run to tie the game at 37 with 13:13 remaining and then take a 41-37 lead.

The Wildcats would get a 3 from Will Spradling and a basket from DJ Johnson to go ahead 42-41 with 10 minutes left, but the Bears pushed back, going ahead by four points with a 5-0 run of their own.

K-State did have one last run, but it wasn’t enough to push the Wildcats over the top. Behind six unanswered points, K-State tied the game at 51 with 5:38 to play, but the Bears outscored the Wildcats 9-7 the rest of the way, making just two shots from the floor and 5 of 12 from the line down the stretch.

Despite the many chances Northern Colorado gave K-State to rally, the Wildcats could only make 3 of 7 from the line and one field goal in the final 2:06. Wesley Iwundu, who finished with a team-high 14 points and 10 rebounds, made a basket just before time ran out to make it a two-point game.

It was the first season-opening loss for K-State since a 73-64 defeat by BYU on Nov. 23, 2002. Prior to that, K-State hadn’t lost an opener since 1999. It was the first time in Weber’s career that his team lost an opener at home.

The Wildcats played without junior forward Thomas Gipson, as he missed his second straight game with an undisclosed injury. Weber was unsure of his status for Wednesday’s home game against Oral Roberts.

Without Gipson, the Wildcats were outrebounded by the Bears 49-40. Leading the way for the Bears was 6-foot-3 guard Derrick Barden, who grabbed 17 boards to go along with 16 points.

“You’ve got to give Barden so much credit,” Weber said. “He just punked us.”

Tate Unruh scored 14 points for the Bears and made all three of its 3-pointers. Johnson scored 12 points and hauled in nine rebounds for K-State, while senior Shane Southwell had seven points and eight assists off the bench.

Weber used the football team as example for why his team has to keep looking forward.

“It’s the start of the year — just like football when we lost,” he said. “They made big improvement. We’ve got a lot of games and we’ve got to keep getting better.”

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