WVU was able to keep itself in the game throughout the entire 40 minutes by making free throws and using its defense to force Iowa State into making mistakes, but in the end its 28 percent showing from the field in the game’s final half – including a final seven minutes in which it missed 11 of its last 15 attempts from the game – led to West Virginia’s demise and handed the Mountaineers (14-2, 2-1 Big 12 Conference) their first loss in conference play.
“They played harder than we did,” said West Virginia senior guard Gary Browne. “They made open shots and we didn’t. We just didn’t play hard enough.”
The Cyclones opened the game fast, jumping out to an eight-point lead within the first eight minutes of the contest. But it was down the stretch that Iowa State was tested the most, and stepped up by making enough plays to come away with the victory in the end.
“I couldn’t be more proud of how our guys fought through adversity tonight,” said Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg. “You have to win road games if you want to compete for a league championship.
“Not a lot of teams are going to win in this building, I’ll tell you that right now.”
One storyline that was of great interest leading up to this game was how the Cyclones would handle the relentless full-court pressure that West Virginia throws at opponents every game. Heading into Saturday’s showdown, WVU forced opponents to commit turnovers more often than any other team in college basketball, while Iowa State turned it over less than any other Big 12 team.
The result was the Cylones committing more turnovers than they have had in a game all season, giving the ball to the Mountaineers 18 times. But while WVU was able to do what it had been able to do most of the year and get turnovers, it wasn’t able to turn them into a lot of points – settling instead for several deadball turnovers and not quite as many steals and transition opportunities.
“We just didn’t get enough steals,” Browne said. “We turned them over 18 times, but we just didn’t play hard. It sucks. It really sucks.”
Trailing 51-43 with 11:22 to play in the game, West Virginia turned it into a close game over the next three minutes. The Mountaineers used a 12-4 run to tie the game at 55 on a three by Jaysean Paige. Over the next handful of minutes, the game would remain close – with West Virginia taking a lead one time, but mostly hanging around and trailing by one possession while the game went back and forth between the Mountaineers and Cyclones.
But as it got close down the stretch, West Virginia just was never able to make the most of those opportunities.
The Mountaineers had the ball down by three in the closing seconds, but a missed layup by Juwan Staten and a failed final-second desperation heave by Nathan Adrian, among a handful of other opportunities down the stretch, sent the Cyclones back to Ames with a victory.
“We just can’t squander opportunities,” said WVU head coach Bob Huggins. “We didn’t pass the ball. We had guys open and we didn’t pass the ball. We struggled to make shots at times.”
Staten led West Virginia with 23 points and four assists. He was joined in double figures by sophomore forward Devin Williams, whose 14 points and 15 rebounds gave him his first double-double since WVU’s third game of the season, and Paige.
Abdel Nader came off the bench to score 19 points for Iowa State while Georges Niang and Dustin Hogue finished with 16 and 11 points, respectively.
The Mountaineers will have a chance to bounce back Tuesday night against Oklahoma.