MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Nearly one year ago to the day, Bruce Weber walked off the court at Bramlage Coliseum with his head down following back-to-back home losses to Texas Southern and Georgia as Kansas State concluded conference play 7-6.
On Tuesday, Weber had a smile on his face as he walked toward the locker room. Later, he used the words “proud” and “fun” to describe his new-look roster, which has jumped out to 10 wins while nearly knocking off ranked foes North Carolina and Texas A&M in the process.
“That was a turning point in the wrong direction last year,” Weber said. “We did recover a little bit and won same games to start the league, but we’re a much better team now. I’ve said it, they enjoy each other and it’s more fun to coach.”
Their latest win proves as much. Wesley Iwundu scored 13 points, grabbed 8 rebounds and passed around 4 assists, and Kansas State used a dominant second half to top Saint Louis 75-47 and enter conference play with a 10-2 record.
Kamau Stokes finished with 11 points and Justin Edwards 10 to go along with 6 rebounds. Seven players finished with 7 points or more.
The Wildcats have now reached 10 wins in non-conference play for the ninth time in the last 10 seasons and the first since the 2013-14 season.
“We have a clearer mind,” Iwundu said. “We’re not dealing with stuff off the court, away from basketball (like last year). We’re focused straight on basketball, and I think that will help this team focus moving forward in Big 12 play.”
The first half was marred by sloppy play as the two teams combined for 19 fouls and 17 turnovers. The final 20 minutes were dominated by Kansas State as Saint Louis, 5-7, shot just 25 percent from the field in the second half, including 2 of 14 from beyond the arc.
An Edwards 3-pointer with 7:20 left in the opening period gave the Wildcats their first lead of the game after opening 7 of 17 from the field. Stephen Hurt converted a 3-pointer with 54 seconds remaining as Kansas State closed the first half on a 6-0 run to take a 35-28 halftime lead.
An 8-2 run to begin the second half gave Kansas State its first double-digit lead of the game. The lead stretched on back-to-back buckets coming out of a timeout with 7:28 remaining in the game. Saint Louis managed just seven points from that point on, as Kansas State used a 21-3 run in the final four minutes, including 6 of 7 field goals, to grab the 28-point win.
“We still don’t have mentality for turnovers,” Saint Louis coach Jim Crews said. “That’s the Achilles’ heel of our team. A lot of times to start the second half we’re not very effective.”
The Billikens were led by Milik Yarbrough with 12 points and Ash Yacoubou with 10 points.
“We took a big step today,” Iwundu said. “We got a few days before it officially starts, so these next days will be important to tune up for the press that West Virginia will throw at us. We’re going in the right direction.”
Kansas State: Tuesday’s win was the 50th for Wildcats coach Bruce Weber at Bramlage Coliseum. He is 50-7 all-time at Kansas State when playing at home. .The Wildcats have used the same lineup in all 12 games leading up to conference play.
Saint Louis: Return four starters from a team that posted an 11-21 record last season. .Saint Louis opened the season 4-0 and has since lost seven of its last eight games.