This could be a sign of bad things to come. Or a wake-up call.
Either way, Kansas State is dealing with its first season-opening basketball loss in 10 years and its first loss in a home opener since 1993, compliments of a 60-58 loss to Big Sky foe Northern Colorado on Friday.
“Obviously disappointing,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “I’ve told the guys since the summer that this was going to be a difficult game. We’ve got a sign up in the locker room that says ‘What’s greater, your excuses or your desire?’ And we have too many excuses and not enough desire.”
The Bears came in with all five starters returning from last season. They were powered on Friday by 16 points and 17 rebounds from Derrick Barden and 14 points from Tate Unruh and a second-half rally that didn’t stop even after Unruh fouled out with 2 minutes left in the game.
Barden, who is 6-feet-3, dominated a bigger K-State team on the glass from start to finish, and especially with the game on the line: He grabbed a pair of offensive rebounds in the final minutes on Northern Colorado free-throw misses when K-State was trying to climb out of a hole.
“Give Barden credit, he just punked us,” Weber said. “We’ve got a long ways to go.”
K-State was led by freshman Wesley Iwundu’s 14 points and 10 rebounds, but the Wildcats missed shots at an alarming rate, going 20 of 59 from the field, two of 19 from the three-point line and 16 of 33 on free throws.
“I hadn’t anticipated something like this,” Weber said. “We haven’t shot bad in practice. I don’t think we’re bad shooters, but we missed a lot of shots. A lot of layups, not just jumpers.”
Iwundu agreed: “Not the way I wanted to start my career, first game of my freshman year. We can learn from this.”
Kansas State opened the game in ugly fashion, hitting one of six free throws before Northern Colorado’s Unruh hit a three-pointer for the first field goal and a 3-1 lead with 17:54 to play.
With K-State leading 19-15 with just over 5 minutes left in the first half, a pair of young Wildcats provided a spark for K-State, starting off with a dunk by sophomore D.J. Johnson then three straight baskets from Iwundu to make the score 27-15 with 2:50 left in the half.
Still, K-State couldn’t make the most of the surge. The Bears rallied and cut K-State’s lead to 29-24 at halftime thanks to a pair of free throws from Tevin Svihovec with 0.5 seconds left.
The Bears took the lead for good with 9:40 left in the game on a basket by Barden for a 43-42 lead, and led by as much as 7 points after a pair of free throws from Tim Huskisson with 7:18 left.
“I didn’t think we played very good in the first half, not at all,” Barden said. “But in the second half, we just punched (K-State) in the mouth.”
The Wildcats were also outrebounded 49-40, and were playing without junior forward Thomas Gipson, who is out with an undisclosed injury.
Johnson had 12 points and nine rebounds in a career-high 36 minutes.
“We didn’t want to play D.J. that much,” Weber said. “A couple of times he wanted to come out but I had to tell him I just couldn’t take hime out.”
It’s the first of three home games to open the season for the Wildcats, with Oral Roberts and Long Beach State up next before K-State heads to the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.