Three takeaways from Kansas State Wildcats’ easy men’s basketball win over North Dakota

College basketball games don’t get much easier than this.

Kansas State beat North Dakota 84-42 on Sunday at Bramlage Coliseum in a matchup that was every bit as lopsided as the final score indicates. The Wildcats (3-2) took care of business against the Fighting Hawks (2-5), who entered the weekend ranked 326th in Ken Pomeroy’s team ratings.

They did it by playing their best game of the season after losing a pair of games at the CBE Hall of Fame Classic.

“Obviously, it’s not what a win against Arkansas or Illinois would have been, but it shows what we are capable of doing,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “It’s definitely an improvement from (early wins against) Florida A&M to Omaha to now. Hopefully we’re starting to understand how hard you have to play and the passion you have to play with on defense.”

Markquis Nowell led the way for K-State with a game-high 18 points, but he had lots of help. Nijel Pack scored 16 points and both Mike McGuirl and Kaosi Ezeagu delivered 15 points. Missouri transfer Mark Smith had his first double-double with the Wildcats, as he finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

Eight different K-State players scored and the Wildcats finished with 21 assists.

K-State won handily despite the absences of Davion Bradford and Selton Miguel, who were both sidelined for precautionary reasons as they deal with minor injuries.

Some pregame thoughts from freshman guard Maximus Edwards may have also helped. Weber said he asked for his thoughts after the K-State lost back-to-back games at the start of the week. His reply: “We play with each other, not for each other.” The team took those words to heart and bounced back with a lopsided victory.

“It was disappointment,” McGuirl said of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic. “We were very confident in this team that we have and we weren’t happy at all after that tournament. We didn’t sit around and be babies about it. We got in the gym, we got in the film room, took hard coaching, went through two tough practices and prepared for today.”

The Wildcats will be back in action Wednesday against Albany at Bramlage.

Here are some key takeaways from Sunday’s game.

Getting defensive

Defense was a problem for K-State during recent losses against Arkansas and Illinois, but it was a strength for Bruce Weber’s team in this game.

The Wildcats made life miserable for the Fighting Hawks every time they possessed the ball by limiting them to .609 points per possession. That number was by far K-State’s best of the season.

There are many reasons why North Dakota couldn’t get anything done on offense. They only made 29.3% of their shots and were at their worst from three-point range, where they shot 3 of 31.

It seemed like K-State bothered North Dakota so much that it had an impact at the free throw line. The Fighting Hawks shot poorly from there, as well, making 5 of 13.

North Dakota is obviously a step down in competition from the ranked opponents K-State played before Thanksgiving at the Hall of Fame Classic, but this defensive performance is still something that the Wildcats can build on.

Big game for Kaosi Ezeagu

Turns out, K-State’s starting center can be quite productive when he avoids early foul trouble.

Ezeagu had his finest game in a Wildcats uniform and finished with an impressive stat line of 15 points and seven rebounds in 20 minutes.

That is a big improvement from his previous four games, when he averaged 5.8 points and 4.3 rebounds.

It’s not hard to comprehend why he was more involved against North Dakota. He committed two early fouls against both Arkansas and Illinois and was relegated to the bench for all but a combined total of 21 minutes in those two games. He played a much smarter game on Sunday and was only whistled for two fouls.

He told himself before opening tip that he wasn’t going to gamble or commit early fouls against North Dakota. And he followed through.

That allowed him to remain on the floor and take advantage of good matchups against a small opponent.

“I had to improve with the whole foul-trouble deal, because I was normally sitting like two minutes into the game,” Ezeagu said. “I would sit. I feel like I’m getting more confident with my teammates and they’re starting to trust me more though. I really feel when my guards trust me it really empowers me and I can do stuff.”

His performance was perhaps inflated a bit by the absence of Bradford, but Bradford may not be ready to handle a full workload soon. Weber has said Bradford won’t be at full speed until around Christmas.

All around good day for K-State’s back court

Markquis Nowell led the way with 18 points, but all of K-State’s guards found success in this game.

Nijel Pack drained four three-pointers on his way to 16 points, Mike McGuirl had his best game of they year and finished with 15 points on just six shots, and Mark Smith delivered a double-double of 11 points and 10 rebounds.

The Wildcats needed a little extra contributions form all of them without Selton Miguel in the lineup.

Miguel is expected back next week, but Weber may stick with McGuirl in the starting lineup. After making all six of his shots against the Fighting Hawks and also dishing out five assists, there isn’t much reason to send him back to bench.

It will also be interesting to see if Nowell cracks the starting lineup in future games. He has come off the bench in all five games this season, but he has led the Wildcats in scoring in each of their last two contests. Weber said that he thinks Nowell deserves to start, but it suits the team better for him to be a reserve.

“He brings a unique dynamic to the team,” Weber said. “He brings a lot to the table. He loves it. He’s a really good young man. He really is. He’s got a big heart. But understanding basketball and winning basketball is what he’s got to figure out a little bit.”