Maybe it’s time to reset expectations for the Kansas State men’s basketball team.
The Wildcats, unanimously picked to finish near the bottom of the Big 12, led Columbia from start to finish during an 81-71 victory on Monday at Bramlage Coliseum, giving them a solid victory against a team picked to finish second in the Ivy League.
Combine that with a blowout win over Maryland-Eastern Shore in its opening game, and K-State is off to an encouraging start.
It will take more than two early home wins to convince the masses the Wildcats are ready to consistently compete with NCAA Tournament teams, and we will learn much more about them next week at the CBE Hall of Fame Classic when they face Missouri, then North Carolina or Northwestern. But, for now at least, K-State is giving fans reason to hope.
“We are clicking really well right now,” senior guard Justin Edwards said. “We are just a really good team this year. We are way more of a team. We do a lot of stuff together on and off the court. We are always around each other. I feel like we know each other’s game and we always try to help each other.”
That was most evident in K-State’s balanced scoring. Its entire starting lineup finished in double figures.
The Wildcats had several bright spots Monday, but the brightest might have been Edwards. He was electric inside the lane and behind the three-point line on his way to a game-high 19 points. He made five of six shots, including two three-pointers, on top of seven assists and six rebounds.
He was at his best at the start of the second half when he scored nine points and sent an assist to Stephen Hurt to help K-State take a 51-39 lead. The run featured two Edwards three-pointers, and an and-one layup.
“We just had to come out with energy,” Edwards said. “I thought in the first half, the last five minutes, we came out with less energy and things died down a bit. Coach said just to be a player and I just tried to do my best to get the team going and make a little run.”
But he had lots of competition for player of the game. Freshman Dean Wade had 17 points. Wesley Iwundu had 16 points, four rebounds and four assists. Hurt had 10 points and six rebounds.
Columbia coach Kyle Smith was blown away by Iwundu and referred to him as a college-level Scottie Pippen.
Wade earned high praise from K-State coaches. The freshman forward looked beyond his years playing in his second college game. He made seven of 10 shots, including three three-pointers.
Many of his baskets came at pivotal moments. When Columbia went on a late run to pull within 64-61 with less than six minutes remaining, Wade drained a three and converted a layup to help K-State go back ahead 73-61.
Reserve forward D.J. Johnson got the run started with a dunk and Wade kept it going.
“Jump up and swish,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said.
K-State held top Columbia scorer Maodo Lo to 12 points on three of 13 shooting, and frustrated the everyone on the Lions’ roster outside. They made five of 24 three-pointers.
This game had a little bit of everything. The Wildcats looked terrific early, taking a big lead and playing with energy. Then Columbia fought back to make things interesting. There was no telling how a young team would respond to pressure for the first time, but K-State pulled away with ease.
It will be a while longer before we know how good the Wildcats truly are, but it will be fascinating to see how they handle stronger competition next week.
“This was a good one,” Weber said. “If you know anything about basketball you know they are a very good team.... (Columbia) will be a tournament team, some tournament, either NCAA or NIT. They are going to be playing somewhere in March.”
Kellis Robinett: @KellisRobinett