MANHATTAN — Just as the Kansas State Wildcats achieved modest success from 3-point range, their free-throw touch abandoned them.
The struggles at the line made matters much more difficult than it could have been for the No. 12-ranked Wildcats, who still finished strong to hold off Denver 64-56 on Monday night at Bramlage Coliseum.
Barry Brown heated up in the second half to lead K-State (2-0) with 25 points, while Xavier Sneed and Dean Wade each had 12. Wade also grabbed a career-high 16 rebounds.
K-State shot just 38.3 percent from the field, but held Denver to 36.5. The Wildcats were 12 of 27 from the foul line and 6 or 27 from 3-point range, but made 4 of 14 threes in the second half.
Joe Rosga scored 18 points, with Ade Murkey and Ronnie Harrell each adding 14 for Denver (1-1).
After Murkey hit two free throws — cutting the K-State lead to four — and the Wildcats turned the ball over, Sneed came up with a big defensive play with 47.7 left, forcing Harrell to lose the ball off his knee.
Sneed then was fouled at 23.3 seconds and made the first of two free throws, pushing the lead to 61-56. He iced the game seconds later with a dunk off a Kamau Stokes steal.
Two Wade free throws, which made K-State 3 of 9 from the line in the half, put the Wildcats up 56-49 at the 4:31 mark. But Denver answered with a Jase Townsend basket in the lane and two Murkey free throws, cutting it to three with 3:32 left.
K-State answered with a Brown pull-up jumper from the left baseline, and after a Murkey free throw Wade tipped in Cartier Diarra's miss to give the Wildcats a 60-54 advantage with 2:05 on the clock.
Brown's third 3-pointer of the half pushed K-State's lead to 49-43 with 8:07 to go.
After Denver went in front 38-37 on a Townsend basket with 13:48 left, Brown sparked a 9-0 K-State run with two 3-pointers and a baseline drive for an eight-point advantage. A Rosga 3 and Townsend bucket in the lane cut it back to three, 46-43.
Denver scored the first five points of the second half to tie it on a Rosga 3-pointer and go ahead on Murkey's basket. The Pioneers stretched it to 36-33 on Murkey's 3-pointer with 17:03 left, but K-State answered with a Wade jumper and Brown drive for a layup to regain the lead, 37-36.
Kansas State nearly squandered a double-digit lead in the last two minutes of the half, but led 31-28 at intermission.
The Wildcats used an 11-5 spurt late in the half, led by Brown, to go up 31-21 on Austin Trice's free throw with 1:58 left. Denver scored the last seven points of the period, trimming it to three on Rosga's second-chance 3-pointer at the 20-second mark.
K-State continued its frigid perimeter shooting at Bramlage, going 2 for 13 from 3-point range in the half and 11 of 31 overall for 35.5 percent. Denver was not much better at 11 of 29 for 37.9 percent, but knocked down 4 of 16 3-point attempts.
K-State had a narrow 21-20 rebound advantage at the break, led by nine from Wade. The Wildcats also forced eight Pioneer turnovers, with only four of their own.
Brown led K-State at the half with 10 points and Xavier Sneed had nine in his first start of the season after missing the season opener against Kennesaw State.
Rosga had 12 points, while Harrell scored 10 with 7 rebounds and 3 assists in the period for Denver.