Jevon Thomas and Nino Williams are two of Kansas State’s most confident players.
Before the season began, both went out of their way to promise big improvements. Thomas, a sophomore point guard, vowed to make more shots than he did a year ago while upping his assists. Williams, a senior forward, told the world he was going “let it fly” from three-point range.
They delivered in all areas during an 84-66 victory over Nebraska-Omaha on Tuesday at Bramlage Coliseum.
Thomas, a woeful shooter from the field (24.6 percent) and the free-throw line (34.7 percent) last season, looked like a new man, sinking two threes on his way to a career-high 12 points, seven assists and four rebounds.
“It was probably Jevon’s best game, overall, of his career,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “He has gotten better in practice. He has worked at it as hard as anybody. It is good to see him rewarded and making some shots.”
Williams, predominantly an inside and mid-range player, hit his first three since 2012 on his way to 19 points and four rebounds. He scored K-State’s first five points, and provided energy when his team badly needed it.
He grinned from ear to ear when the three fell through the net.
“It was really good,” Williams said. “I have been shooting all summer and I have been shooting after practice. So it was just good to get the release that I can make one. I had a couple chances in Maui, but it was crucial times in the game. My opportunity came and I took it.”
The Wildcats (4-3) required both players to contribute against a Summit League opponent that entered the day with surprising victories over name opponents Marquette and Nevada.
The Mavericks (3-3) scored the game’s first five points and led most of the first half. K-State closed the half with a 12-3 run, sparked by Thomas, Stephen Hurt and Justin Edwards, to take a 37-31 lead at the break.
Behind a game-high 22 points from C.J. Carter, and a confusing defense that forced nine K-State turnovers in the first half, Nebraska-Omaha seemed poised to challenge until the end.
It didn’t happen.
K-State made wiser passes in the second half and cut down its turnovers. Then Marcus Foster, who scored 16 points, got going and the Wildcats built a commanding 20-point lead.
Thomas was also a factor on the defensive end.
“I thought Jevon did a really good job,” Nebraska-Omaha coach Derrin Hansen said. “He kept us out of transition some, which is what we love to do. But when we got into the midcourt he stopped us there, too.”
K-State’s size and depth also changed things. The Wildcats outrebounded the Mavericks 43-25 and looked like the more energetic team late.
That surprised Weber, considering his team was playing its first game after returning from the Maui Invitational on Friday.
“We were worried about being dead,” Weber said, “and we wore them down.”
K-State snapped a two-game losing streak and moved above .500 before it prepares for a challenging road game against Tennessee on Saturday.
It felt more even more significant to Thomas and Williams, both of whom were off to slow starts this season. If they can continue playing at that level, on top of what dependable starters Thomas Gipson and Foster have been giving the team, K-State will benefit.
Of course, it wasn’t a perfect night for either player.
Thomas air-balled a free throw late in the game and got whistled for a technical following a scuffle with Mike Rostampour and Tim Smallwood at midcourt.
Weber had an extended chat with Thomas on the sideline when he exited the game for the final time. Coach told player to stay composed in future games. K-State needs him to build off the way he played Tuesday.
“That is part of his maturation growing up,” Weber said, “because he has come a long, long way. But if he is playing well that is going to be key.”