Beating Texas A&M last weekend felt like a power boost for the entire Kansas State basketball team, but it had added significance for Wesley Iwundu. The sophomore small forward was at his best.
He scored 10 points without missing a shot, he threw down a vicious dunk that landed him on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” and he finally looked like a player capable of building off a promising freshman season.
“He lost (confidence) a little bit, because he wasn’t playing like he was last year early,” K-State sophomore guard Marcus Foster said after the A&M game, “and now he has a lot of confidence. ... It’s slowly rising back.”
That would be a welcome change for the Wildcats.
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Before Iwundu’s breakout performance against the Aggies, he was lost in a slump — a bad slump. In his five previous games he scored a total of 10 points, failing to make a field goal against Savannah State, Bradley or Tennessee.
K-State coach Bruce Weber thought so little of Iwundu’s form that he took him out of the starting lineup, favoring Maine transfer Justin Edwards, and reduced Iwundu’s playing time to 18 minutes per game.
“The biggest thing, and we’ve told him, you’ve got to practice well before you play well in the games,” Weber said after the game against the Aggies. “He missed practice, and then when he came back it took him a while. He’s had three or four really good practices out of the last six or seven, where he’s a factor again and he’s playing strong.
“He was zero for 13 (at one point during his slump), and he said, ‘Coach, they block my shots.’ I said ‘no kidding, that means you have to go up strong.’ Last year at this time he had 40 free throws and now he has (24). He wasn’t playing strong and (against A&M) he played strong, he played confident and made some big plays for us.”
The biggest two were highlights.
In the second half, he grabbed a rebound on one end and took it the length of the court for an uncontested slam that made his teammates go wild. He also tossed a no-look pass to senior forward Nino Williams for an easy layup. As a bonus, he did it all on his 20th birthday.
Those were the type of plays K-State expected out of Iwundu after he started 32 games and averaged 6.7 points and 4.2 rebounds as a freshman.
His current numbers — 5.1 points and 3.8 rebounds — still leave a lot to be desired, but Iwundu’s play against Texas A&M was a big step in the right direction.
Perhaps it will turn his season around.
Iwundu has not spoken with media since the Texas A&M game, but his teammates are confident in his future, starting Sunday against Texas Southern.
“I always tell him it’s a long season,” Williams said. “You’re going to have your ups and downs. Once you have a game like this, just build off of it. Don’t get complacent and stay hungry. Just build a lot of confidence off of this. Hopefully, he takes the compliments the right way and doesn’t get complacent and stays hungry.”