MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) -- Kansas State could easily have two losses in its first three games. Freshman Michael Beasley is the reason the Wildcats are still undefeated.
Beasley scored 23 of his 28 points in the second half and had 22 rebounds, lifting 22nd-ranked Kansas State out of a sloppy first half to a 77-64 victory over Western Illinois on Saturday night.
Kansas State (3-0) was ranked in the preseason Top 25 (25th) for the first time since 1975-76, its first ranking of any kind since 1993, and moved up to 22nd based on a pair of wins the first week. But the Wildcats are young, with three freshmen starting, and have been inconsistent even in winning.
The Wildcats opened with an easy win over Sacramento State, then struggled for a 10-point victory over Division II Pittsburg State on Sunday, allowing the Gorillas to go on a 15-0 run to start the second half.
Kansas State had the same kind of trouble with Western Illinois (1-2), a team that's won only four of its 54 road games in four-plus years under coach Derek Thomas and was picked to finish eighth in the new Summit Conference.
The Wildcats, as expected against a weaker opponent, jumped out to an early 11-point lead, holding the Leathernecks to one field goal in the first five minutes.
Then the mistakes started.
A little sloppy ball handling, a few airballs and some defensive breakdowns, and it wasn't long before Western Illinois was back in it, pulling within 28-27 on David Dubois' breakaway layup late in the first half. The Leathernecks also held Kansas State to 35 percent shooting and swarmed Beasley with double and triple teams, holding him scoreless for the first 17 minutes.
Beasley hit a couple of shots in the closing minutes of the half, including a 3-pointer, and grabbed 10 rebounds, giving the Wildcats a 31-27 halftime lead. He kept it going after the break, scoring 15 points in the first 9 1/2 minutes of the second half.
Still, Kansas State had a hard time shaking Western Illinois, which seemed to gain confidence the longer the game stayed close.
It wasn't until the Wildcats picked up the defensive pressure and went on an 11-0 run midway through the second half that they pulled away for their fifth straight 3-0 start to a season.
Courtesy: Kansas State University