Kansas State is on a seven-game winning streak and the Wildcats have been on the roll because of defense.
“It’s a team defense,” Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said after the Wildcats cruised to a 72-41 victory over Tulane on Saturday night in the Brooklyn Hoops Winter Festival at Barclays Center. “We have a system, and the kids have bought into it. Most important the four freshmen have. Usually what they struggle with is defense, and they’ve done a good job of helping us become a good team.”
It was a senior who led the way offensively Saturday as New York native Shane Southwell matched his career high with 19 points but the Wildcats, 9-3, continued their fine defensive play of late.
In the first six games of their winning streak, they held opponents to 52.8 points on 38.0 percent shooting from the field. Those numbers improved Saturday.
Tulane, 7-7, which had won its two previous games, had plenty of trouble with K-State, finishing with a season low in points (the previous was 52 in a loss to Texas State) and shooting percentage (28.6 percent on 12 of 42 field goal attempts).
“Obviously any win is good and to win by that margin surprises a little bit,” Weber said. “We challenged our guys to be locked up from the start and control the tempo from the get-go.”
Nigel Johnson, one of the four freshmen, added 13 points for the Wildcats, including seven in a 12-1 run that gave Kansas State a 55-29 lead with 9:50 to play. Southwell was five of nine from three-point range and the Wildcats finished 12 of 27 from beyond the arc (44.4 percent).
“He’s one of our smartest players and he’s starting to make some shots that’s a real positive,” Weber said. “If he starts making shots and we play our defense the way we have, we can be competitive in our league.”
The Wildcats play host to George Washington on Tuesday and then open play in the Big 12 at home against No. 7 Oklahoma State.
“I told them, ‘Now it’s for real,’ ” Weber said.
Jonathan Stark had 10 points for Tulane while leading scorer Louis Dabney, who came in averaging 19.9 points per game, finished with nine on three-of-10 shooting.
“It was physical out there early,” Tulane coach Ed Conroy said. “We need to find ways to fight through different styles of play so we can execute at a high level. I thought we did get frustrated, not all five guys but one or two at a time. Our communication was poor.”
The Green Wave had a horrendous first half and trailed 28-10 after 20 minutes.
Tulane led 3-0 on a three-pointer by Jay Hook with 17:50 to play. The Green Wave missed their next 12 shots, finally ending the drought on Dabney’s basket down low with 6:23 left that brought them within 19-5.
“You don’t get too frustrated,” Hook said of the first half. “We tried to execute. We didn’t get frustrated but we didn’t execute.”
The Wildcats didn’t exactly tear up the building with their shooting on the way to the 18-point halftime lead. They were 11 of 32 from the field (34.4 percent), including making six of 16 3-point attempts, but that looked pretty good compared with Tulane’s 13.0 percent (three of 23). The Green Wave also missed four of six free throws.