The Kansas State men’s basketball team struggled at times in its first game of the season, but the Wildcats eventually pulled away from North Dakota State for a satisfying 67-54 victory on Tuesday at Bramlage Coliseum.
It’s obvious K-State is going to experience some growing pains as Bruce Weber integrates a new roster. It’s also clear this group has enough talent to play an exciting brand of hoops.
The Wildcats fought through a plethora of shortcomings to beat the Bison, including poor three-point shooting, lackadaisical defense and freshman mistakes. An impressive second half was enough for them to win on opening night, but they will need to improve if they want to keep winning against stronger competition.
“We are going to make mistakes in the game,” K-State guard Cartier Diarra said. “But we just want to minimize those mistakes. Of course winning is the biggest goal. I would have been just as excited if I had five or four points. A win is a win and that’s the most important thing.”
Diarra was perhaps the biggest positive for K-State. The junior guard looked like the best player on the court as he scored a game-high 23 points, grabbed six rebounds and sent out six assists. Weber is counting on him to be a consistent scorer and leader this season, and he was both in this game.
He was at his best off the dribble, attacking the basket and putting NDSU defenders in bad positions. But he was also strong on defense by using his athleticism to contest a number of shots.
Diarra’s biggest impact came near the end of the first half, when he blocked a shot on one end and hit a contested layup on the other to pull K-State within one point of North Dakota State.
Senior forward Makol Mawien also had a solid debut with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Xavier Sneed also chipped in nine points and six rebounds.
“This is a team that is is going to really grow,” North Dakota State coach David Richman said. “You can see that, and Cartier is just a tremendous, tremendous talent. I thought their physicality, their length, their athleticism wore on us in the second half and that was the difference.”
But there weren’t many other players worth circling on the stat sheet.
North Dakota State led 22-21 at halftime and pushed K-State the whole way. They gave the Wildcats a game thanks in large part to woeful three-point shooting from the home team. K-State went 6 of 21 from behind the arc.
To be fair, the Bison are better than many mid-major programs. They played in the NCAA Tournament last season and were the preseason pick to win the Summit League. Rocky Kreuser led NDSU with 14 points, including three early outside shots.
“We are a new team,” Weber said. “We knew this would be a really hard game. I am happy for our guys, proud of them. When you scheduled them, especially as an opener, it probably wasn’t the best decision on my part. It was good for us. We fought through it.”
K-State was more efficient close to the basket in the second half and it showed. The Wildcats erupted for 46 points after halftime.
The Wildcats will next be in action at 3 p.m. Saturday at UNLV.