It wasn’t supposed to be this easy.
Kansas State and Missouri entered the semifinals of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic on level ground. The Wildcats came in undefeated, but untested. The Tigers had one loss, but it came on the road against tough competition. A game against each other inside the neutral confines of Sprint Center figured to be a toss-up.
Instead, K-State turned it into a statement game.
The Wildcats clobbered the Tigers 66-42, showing once again they may be better than advertised. They can further prove themselves at 9 p.m. on Tuesday when they play for a tournament trophy against North Carolina.
“I am sure we have surprised some people to this point,” junior guard Wesley Iwundu said. “But we still have got a lot to accomplish this season. We have a long way to go, but if we take it day by day I think it will continue.”
K-State, 4-0, outplayed Missouri, 2-2, in every way, spreading its scoring throughout the starting lineup and making it hard for the Tigers to draw iron on field-goal attempts.
Behind 14 points and 13 rebounds from Dean Wade, 13 points from Justin Edwards and 10 points from Iwundu, the Wildcats dominated from the start.
They were most impressive on defense, limiting Missouri to 17 made field goals on 55 attempts, a 30.9 shooting percentage. The Tigers had more fouls (15) than points (14) in the first half, and the Wildcats cruised to a 31-14 lead at the break. They continued their quality play in the second half and easily pulled away.
K-State also won the rebounding battle 44-31.
“I was not surprised by the physicality of the game,” Missouri coach Kim Anderson said. “I am disappointed we didn’t match it, because we warned them about it. We told them it would be this kind of game.”
K-State coach Bruce Weber attributed the strong showing to enthusiasm. The Wildcats were fired up to play a name opponent in a neutral venue, and they played with passion.
At times, they appeared to demoralize the Tigers, forcing them outside, where the Tigers missed badly on three-point attempts.
No one on Missouri’s roster reached double figures. Kevin Puryear led the Tigers with nine points.
“Our guys were ready to play,” Weber said. “We talked about enjoying the opportunity. We told them this was our home game. Even though Missouri had some people there, we played here recently. This is our home game, play hard, have fun and be locked in. They did that.”
Wade was the star of the game. Wade, a freshman forward from St. John, Kan., continued his hot start with 14 points, 13 rebounds, two steals, one assist and one block, good enough for his first double-double. His stat line would have been even better had he made more layups. Wade missed eight of 11 field goals overall.
But he made up for that with aggression. He attacked the basket inside, and good things happened.
Some worried Wade wouldn’t be able to adjust to Division I competition so quickly after playing for a tiny high school, but he has effortlessly made the jump so far.
“I just wanted to be aggressive, box out and crash the boards,” Wade said. “That was my main focus ... defensive help, too. Just be aggressive.”
“He is good,” Weber added. “But please don’t tell him that. Let him think he is not good. ... He responded against a little more aggressive and bigger guys than he has played before.”
As good as Wade was, the Wildcats had quality balance, too.
Weber praised Iwundu for finishing with 10 points, eight rebounds and four assists, playing a role in seemingly every play. Edwards made five of eight shots. Stephen Hurt added eight points. And nine different players scored.
K-State has won all four of its games by double digits, but this was the most lopsided result yet.
They appear ready for stiffer competition.
“Our guys would appreciate the opportunity,” Weber said. “That is why you play in early season tournaments like this.”