No. 12 Kansas State looks to improve vs. Denver
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Very little satisfies a coach more than a win with room for improvement. Kansas State basketball coach Bruce Weber wore a satisfying grin following his Wildcats' season-opening 56-41 win over Kennesaw State on Friday night.
"We weren't very good today," Weber said after his 12th-ranked squad underperformed. "You obviously have to give credit to Kennesaw State. Coach (Al) Skinner has been around a long time and he has a system. They executed the system and made us guard it.
"We mixed in a couple of bad turnovers, a couple of missed layups and some missed free throws. We had no rhythm. It wasn't pretty, but we got a win. Now we've got to get better."
The players know that their opening effort wasn't what they're capable of doing.
"We knew we had to extend the lead with defense in the second half," guard Barry Brown said. "We came out in the second half and made some stops and hit some shots."
A quick turnaround will show whether the Wildcats (1-0) respond to Weber's instruction as they host Denver Monday night at Bramlage Coliseum. The Pioneers (1-0) defeated Maine 63-50 in their first game. It was their first victory in a season-opener since 2014.
Barry Brown and Dean Wade led Kansas State with 15 points each against Kennesaw State. Makol Mawien added 13 points for the Wildcats. Newcomer Austin Trice led the Wildcats with 12 rebounds in 14 minutes off the bench.
"My main focus is rebounding," Trice said after his debut. "I'm satisfied. I feel like I could have (done) more, but we got the W. I'm happy with that."
Kansas State dominated on the inside, outscoring the Owls 42-12 in the paint, and they outrebounded them 42-29. The defense really showed up in the second half, holding Kennesaw State to just 21 percent shooting after intermission. They allowed 14 second-half points, with 10 in the first 15:57 of the half.
"We were really good," Weber said. "You've got to be pleased with that. We've said that we have to be a tenacious defensive team. We've talked about being the best defensive team in the country. I really believe we can do that."
Defense was the key for Denver as well. They Pioneers held the Black Bears to just 31 percent shooting from the field.
Graduate transfer Ronnie Harrell led Denver with 18 points and 13 rebounds in his debut. He also recorded four blocks. Freshman Jase Townsend had 16 points off the bench.
As they take the road for the first time, the Pioneers are confident they can play with Kansas State.
"We approach every game as if we can win it," Denver head coach Rodney Billups said. "I don't know that that's been our philosophy here before this year.
"I don't know that our student-athletes believed that (in the past), but we now have that fight in our belly and that ownership to win every game on our schedule."
The Wildcats played their opener without regular starting guard Xavier Sneed who sat out for precautionary reasons with an ankle injury. Weber said Sneed could have played had it been a Big 12 Conference game but was held out as a precaution. He is likely to play against Denver.
Updated November 11, 2018