A 71-63 victory against Oral Roberts on Wednesday isn’t the type of achievement that will make Kansas State fans forget about an ugly opening loss to Northern Colorado, but it is a step in the right direction.
The Wildcats shook off many of the flaws that had plagued them Friday and outplayed the Golden Eagles in the second half for their first win of the season at Bramlage Coliseum.
It came in an unexpected way.
For weeks, K-State coach Bruce Weber has said it was up to the team’s veterans to lead the way if the Wildcats hoped to develop into a squad that could challenge for the postseason. But Wednesday belonged to a freshman.
Marcus Foster, making his second career start, dominated on the offensive end. He led all scorers with 25 points — the most by a K-State freshman since Michael Beasley in 2008 —and at one point in the first half scored 10 consecutive points. He made nine of 12 shots and four three-pointers. He also threw down an emphatic dunk that effectively put the game out of reach in the final minutes.
“He got going,” Weber said. “He is a good player, there is no doubt about it. We are going to need him to score without Rodney (McGruder) and a couple other guys from last year. Hopefully he can keep picking up the pace and continue helping us.”
Foster, a 6-foot-2 guard from Wichita Falls, Texas picked an ideal time to show off his skills. Oral Roberts, which defeated Tulsa in its first game, raced to a 16-4 lead midway through the opening half and seemed in control.
K-State, playing in front of a small crowd, appeared to lack energy and poise. But Foster led the Wildcats back into the game with a pair of free throws, a transition layup and two three-pointers.
“I just noticed our team was looking a little sluggish,” Foster said. “We needed a spark. I’m a pretty good scorer, so I decided to take some myself and started scoring on offense. It got everyone going, and we just made a run to come back into the game.”
K-State went on to take a 30-27 halftime lead.
Before then, Oral Roberts coach Scott Sutton was confident the Golden Eagles were on their way to a victory against an opponent that was “a little shaken” confidence-wise.
“I’m disappointed,” Sutton said. “This was a game I knew we would have to play well to win but when I look at the way we started we kind of let it slip away. Give Kansas State credit for that. Give Marcus Foster credit for that. He was terrific.”
Another young player, D.J. Johnson, gave K-State a spark in the second half. The sophomore forward came through with several impressive moves in the low post. He finished with 12 points and helped the Wildcats build a double-digit lead.
K-State seemed to hit its stride in the second half when seniors Shane Southwell and Will Spradling finally got involved. Southwell made a nice decision to pass up a shot on the perimeter and sent the ball to Foster, who sank an open three from the corner. Later Southwell hit a three of his own and Spradling converted a driving layup.
They were both positive signs.
Still, K-State won’t be able to win many games without a more balanced attack. Southwell finished with seven points and Spradling ended with 10. They will need to provide much more when the Wildcats head to Puerto Rico next week for a three-game tournament against mostly power-conference foes.
Before that, K-State will take on Long Beach State at 3 p.m. on Sunday at Bramlage Coliseum.
“Making sure we continue to get better, that’s the important thing now,” Weber said. “We have to get better again before Sunday.”
Things were ugly at times on Wednesday, especially when K-State got off to such a slow start when everyone was focused on redemption. It also had few answers for Obi Emegano and Shawn Glover, who both topped 20 points.
But the final result beats the alternative.
“This was a big win for us,” Foster said. “We really needed this win. We came out and played hard and competed for 40 minutes. I think this is going to be a turning point for our season.”