MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — With memories of last year’s season-opening 60-58 loss to Northern Colorado running through his mind, Bruce Weber wasn’t prepared to see a halftime lead disappear again.
In its second-consecutive attempt to beat a Big Sky conference opponent in their home opener, Kansas State answered in record-breaking fashion. The Wildcats shot 66.7 percent from the floor in the second half and scored the most points in the Weber era.
Nigel Johnson scored a career-high 18 points and Thomas Gipson had 17 points and six rebounds Friday to lead Kansas State over Southern Utah 98-68 in the season opener for both teams.
"We led them last year at halftime and they came back and beat us," Weber said. "We were letting a team like that hang with us and you never know what could happen. It was a good start to the second half and we really got it going (offensively)."
The scoring performance was Kansas State’s highest since an 87-point effort against Central Arkansas on Dec. 1, 2013. It was also is the highest score for Kansas State since a 100-76 win over North Florida on Dec. 31, 2010.
A.J. Hess had 16 points, including 12 in the first half, to pace the Thunderbirds, who are coming off a 2-27 campaign in 2013-14.
Four other players scored in double figures for the Wildcats, including Marcus Foster and Tre Harris with 13 points apiece. Johnson had a career-high tying five assists.
The Wildcats opened the second half with 33-9 run, pushing their lead to 77-55 after 10 minutes and never looked back.
"We obviously shot the ball extremely well at 58 percent," Weber said. "Our guys were patient and got it inside (and) outside. We did a better job in the second half against their zone."
Johnson shot 3 of 4 from deep to aid the Wildcats’ offense, which gave him all nine of his second-half points.
"I’m just trying to play and let it come to me," Johnson said. "My role is going to be different than last year. I didn’t have to score that much, but I can shoot the ball well and I can score the ball."
Hess’ fourth foul with 15:51 in the second half limited the Thunderbirds offensively as they shot 1 of 10 during the Wildcats’ run. Southern Utah finished 20-for-49 from the field after shooting 45.8 percent in the first half (11-24).
Kansas State’s physical play took an early toll on Southern Utah, forcing the Thunderbirds into 16 first-half fouls.
Gipson chipped in 14 points in the first half while the Wildcats went 18 of 24 from the free-throw line in the first half.
Hess kept the Thunderbirds within reach with an eight-point deficit at the break and chipped in a 4-for-7 performance from 3-point range
Southern Utah has now lost 28 of its last 30 games and head coach Nick Robinson falls to 13-48 overall in his three seasons with the Thunderbirds.
Kansas State hosts UMKC, which won at Missouri in its season opener, on Monday and will play at Long Beach State next Friday before heading to the Maui Invitational on Nov. 24-26.
Southern Utah heads to Miami (OH) on Sunday
Along with the highest-scoring total, Kansas State’s 3-point percentage (55.6) and made and attempted free throws (34-48) were the most under Weber. preseason first-team All-Big 12 selection Marcus Foster has now scored in double figures in 28 of his 34 career games.