Kansas State began Big 12 play with a statement.
The Wildcats defeated Iowa State 91-75 on Friday at Hilton Coliseum with a mixture of impressive shooting and, eventually, strong defense. It was their first road win over the Cyclones since 2011 and their first quality victory of the season.
Before this, K-State (11-2) piled up wins against one of the nation’s softest nonconference schedules. If it was going to make a NCAA Tournament push, it would have to make some noise in the Big 12. Not an easy task, considering how rugged the conference appears, with six ranked teams. But K-State is off to an ideal start.
Winning at Hilton Coliseum is never easy, even in a down year for the Cyclones (9-3), yet the Wildcats ran away in this one.
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Dean Wade was the biggest reason why. The junior forward played more aggressive than he ever has, firing away from three-point range and using his low-post moves to create mismatches inside. He dominated against a small lineup of defenders and scored a career high 34 points.
His big game was no fluke. He was efficient from the start, making 13 of 16 shots, including 6 of 8 from three-point range. He also grabbed seven rebounds and played solid defense at the rim after starting center Makol Mawien fouled out with more than 13 minutes remaining.
Wade has had big games before, including a pair of 20-point efforts against Kansas. If he can duplicate this effort in future games, K-State is going to be competitive in one the nation’s toughest conference.
It would help if Kamau Stokes and Barry Brown can continue to play this well, too.
Stokes was sharp from the outside, finishing with 23 points and seven assists. He made several key three-pointers in the first half when Iowa State came out hot. Brown was also on top of his game, continually attacking the rim for 21 points.
K-State’s big three combined for 78 points, enough to beat Iowa State by themselves. The Wildcats hadn’t produced three 20-point scorers in the same game since beating Xavier in the Sweet 16 in 2010.
For a while, it looked like they may need to score more. This began as a shootout. The first half was an offensive showcase combined with a defensive nightmare.
Iowa State made 68 percent of its shots, including 4 of 7 from three-point range, and abused K-State inside the paint. Every time the Cyclones attacked the rim something good happened. They either made a layup, went to the free-throw line or did both for an old-fashioned three-point play.
That aggressive style put K-State in foul trouble. Mawien was relegated to the bench with two fouls just 1:51 after tip. Mawdo Sallah subbed in for him and immediately committed a foul of his own. Freshman Levi Stockard played most of the first half before leaving with three fouls.
That forced the Wildcats to go small, which was probably a good thing. They were able to spread out and hit shots.
As bad as K-State was on defense, it was excellent on offense.
Behind Stokes (21 first-half points) and Wade (18 points) the Wildcats outran the Cyclones for a 53-50 lead at intermission. Stokes was incredibly efficient, making all four of his attempts from behind the arc. Wade was aggressive inside and out, making 7 of 10 looks.
When Barry Brown hit a driving layup on the final play of the first half, K-State had to feel good about its chances. With any kind of defensive improvement in the second half, it was likely to win.
And it did exactly that. K-State scored the first five points of the second half and tightened up significantly on the defensive end, limiting the Cyclones to 25 points in the second half.
The Wildcats will try to build on this in their next game against West Virginia on Monday at Bramlage Coliseum.
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett