Marcus Foster drove to the basket and threw down a two-handed dunk.
Wesley Iwundu beat the halftime buzzer with a three-pointer.
Nigel Johnson flirted with a double-double.
Kansas State’s top three freshmen introduced themselves to fans in different ways during a 75-54 exhibition victory over Pittsburg State on Friday night at Bramlage Coliseum, but they all made their presences known with notable flash. It was only a tune-up game for the regular season, which begins next week, but it was also an encouraging sign that the Wildcats’ rookies are ready to contribute.
“I thought the freshman all did a good job,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “Marcus had some jitters early but then got going. Nigel made some plays. But I’ve said all along our older guys have to be our consistent people. They have to be the ones driving the wagon, and the freshmen have to jump in for the ride. If that doesn’t happen we are going to struggle.”
Foster, a guard from Wichita Falls, Texas, had the most exciting all-around effort. He showed off his athleticism with an early slam, he attacked the basket and he passed well, finishing with 13 points, five rebounds and four assists.
Coaches have complimented him since he arrived on campus, and he showed why.
“It felt real good,” Foster said. “I’m happy I got my first game out of the way. I think it was a success. Now it is time to get ready for next week.”
Iwundu, a small forward from Houston, took a little longer to find his groove, but once he did the results were promising. On top of sinking a corner three to give K-State a 38-22 lead on the final play of the first half, he spun past two defenders in transition for a layup in the second half and finished with 10 points.
Johnson was surprisingly effective inside. The young point guard grabbed nine rebounds to go along with 15 points while helping veterans Will Spradling and Shane Southwell run the offense. He also made all 10 of his free throws.
That is something that could come in handy when the season arrives. New officiating rules that limit defensive contact led to 61 fouls and 69 free throws.
“It is what it is and everyone is going to have to deal with it,” Weber said. “We have got to adjust.”
K-State had other highlights, of course. Nino Williams delivered 13 points and 13 rebounds for a double-double and Southwell had 10 points and five assists.
But the Wildcats struggled to defend Pittsburg State forward Devon Branch, who scored 30 points and snared 16 rebounds. And Spradling was held scoreless. That was discouraging.
“I think we play hard and we play well,” Williams said. “We scrimmaged well against high-major Iowa. We played well against them. By game time next week we will be ready. We have a lot more to learn and a lot more to get better at, but we will be ready.”
It will be interesting to see if K-State’s freshmen play as big a role in the season opener against Northern Colorado on Nov. 8 at Bramlage Coliseum. The Wildcats have been battling injuries, and were down junior forward Thomas Gipson on Friday.
Weber also rested most of his returning players more than usual. That allowed K-State’s freshmen to grow accustomed to the college game.
The early results were positive.
Injuries persist — Gipson was considered doubtful heading into Friday’s exhibition game. Turns out, even that description might have been generous. Gipson was not in attendance. Weber didn’t explain the absence or the injury, but said Gipson’s health is “day to day.”
Skit change — In his latest letter to fans, K-State athletic director John Currie said the pregame skit that sent a student to the hospital before last week’s football game against West Virginia has been modified. He didn’t elaborate on how the skit, which features K-State’s mascot tackling a student dressed in the visiting team’s colors at midfield, but K-State fans have likely witnessed their final pregame tackle.