Key play: Rodney McGruder finally got on the board with an offensive rebound putback 7 minutes into the game. The Wildcats needed McGruder, a preseason all-Big 12 pick to get involved in any way possible.
Key stat: The Wildcats hit 11 of 15 free throws, including seven after North Dakota cut K-State’s lead to 24-23 with just under 7 minutes to play.
Key play: Angel Rodriguez opened up the second half with a three-pointer, the first of eight straight points.
Key stat: Rodriguez led K-State with 13 points — all coming in the second half.
Williams gets the start
Sophomore guard Nino Williams got the start for K-State in place of sophomore forward Adrian Diaz, who started the first two exhibition games for the Wildcats.
“It was just a matchup thing, where because of the small ball they play we thought (Williams) might be able to guard a little better than (Diaz),” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “We thought Nino might be a little better coming off ball screens and stuff.”
Williams, who is 6-foot-5, played 14 minutes, grabbing five rebounds. Diaz, 6-10, played 15 minutes and had three rebounds.
“The key is they all play well,” Weber said. “If we can get them all to play well we’ll be pretty good.”
The Wildcats were a much different team in the first half as Angel Rodriguez picked up two fouls early and had to sit and watch, playing only 4 minutes in the first half and missing both of his shot attempts. Without Rodriguez, K-State seemed lost at times, especially in transition.
“You could tell they were without their floor general,” North Dakota coach Brian Jones said. “Once he came back in the game they were a completely different team and you could tell with him pushing the ball.”
Rodriguez, a sophomore point guard, didn’t spend much time watching in the second half, scoring K-State’s first eight points, pushing the ball in the open floor and finding teammates in the right spots.
K-State hasn’t lost a season opener since 2002, when the Wildcats fell to BYU 73-64 at the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands. K-State is even better at home, where they’ve won 18 straight openers. … Freshman D.J. Johnson got plenty of action against North Dakota. Johnson, who originally signed to play for Weber at Illinois, scored four points and grabbed nine rebounds, six offensive, in 16 minutes and started the second half. … This was North Dakota’s first game as a member of the Big Sky Conference after moving over from the Great West, where North Dakota was only a member for four years.