No. 17 West Virginia, hurt by foul trouble throughout, juggled the bench and got a team-best 12 points from Tarik Phillip to go with 11 from starter Juwan Staten to pick up a fifth Big 12 win and move into a tie with Iowa State for second place. No other Mountaineer reached double figures, but it hardly mattered with their balanced scoring and a vaunted pressure defense that reared its collective head to force 25 turnovers for just the third time this season, and the fourth time since 2008.
Kansas State, in losing for the first time in seven games against ranked teams at home, was outscored 35-13 in bench points. The Wildcats never got comfortable against the press, and seemed to gradually wilt as the game wore on. After KSU got within 51-48 with six minutes remaining, WVU scored seven of the next nine points to match their biggest lead of the game to that point at 58-50 with 67 seconds to play. The Mountaineers (17-3, 5-2 Big 12) then hit seven of their final 11 free throws down the stretch to clinch the win.
“That was a very hard-earned and well-deserved win,” head coach Bob Huggins said on the MSN by IMG postgame radio show. “I told the guys I was really proud of their effort. We made a quite a few bonehead plays and didn’t shoot it well, but we played hard.”
Devin Williams, with a solid second half for the second game in a row, finished with eight points and nine rebounds, eight of which came in the second half. Gary Browne and Jevon Carter added nine apiece, and Jaysean Paige scored seven, all in the second half. Marcus Foster and Wesley Iwundu led Kansas State with 15 and 12 points, respectively. It was the first win in three tries in Brumlage Coliseum for West Virginia, roundly booed throughout after a technical foul on Jonathan Holton one minute into the game. The defeat was KSU’s sixth in 48 home games under third-year head coach Bruce Weber. The Wildcats (12-9, 5-3) had won an impressive 11 of 14 home games against ranked foes entering.
“I thought our defense was pretty good,” Huggins said. “That’s probably as good of a job as we have done in the halfcourt.”
Neither offense gained any significant traction, both entering as the bottom dwellers in the Big 12 in multiple offensive categories. K-State edged WVU in shooting 36.7-36.4 percent. The Wildcats, hurt by the sheer depth and swarming mentality during the press and in the halfcourt, rank second to last in the league in field goal percentage defense at 44.1 percent – ahead of only West Virginia’s 44.6 percent for opponent shooting. KSU, now 9-3 at home this season, is also last in total rebounds and eighth in turnover margin.
“The pressure does that,” Huggins said. “We were horrible in the first half (with 13 turnovers). We talked about that before the game and at the half, because we didn’t get 50-50 balls against TCU, or in the first half.”
The game was fast-paced from the jump, though the fouls reached a lopsided total early in both halves. KSU reached the bonus with 12:07 remaining in the second half, and the double bonus at the 6:05 mark – well before West Virginia even reached the initial bonus. In total, the Wildcats were in the bonus for 24:36 of the 40-minute contest. The resulted in six more free throws taken, but one less made as WVU hit 21 of 29 for 72.4 percent, the fifth-best total of the season. Jonathan Holton, still struggling with foul issues, played just four minutes after two quick fouls in the first half, then picked up his third within the initial minute of the second half and was again removed. He finished with no points, no rebounds and three turnovers with four fouls in six minutes of play. The Mountaineers were minus-11 with him on the floor.
Staten, who battled a left wrist injury after a fall with about 13 minutes to play, was again masterful over the final five minutes, handling the ball and settling – and setting up – the offensive flow. The senior’s totals of 11 points and three assists belie his true contributions on both ends.
“I think sometimes people look at Wanny having 11 points and they don’t know all of what he did for us,” Huggins said. “He was wonderful.”
West Virginia led 26-24 after a half in which both teams shot less than 30 percent, with KSU committing 14 turnovers to the Mountaineers’ 13. The first minute included the technical on Holton, a lane violation by Browne, and a 10-second violation for the Wildcats in among the more highly-entertaining stretches of the season. The first four minutes included four fouls and zero made shots by the Mountaineers, a pair of K-State dunks, and six foul calls as the officials insisted upon showcasing control in a game Huggins said was among the better officiated of the season.
Like TCU, K-State was in the bonus against the Mountaineers by the 12:29 mark. The calls started to go the other way as the pacing did the same later in the half, with Weber called for a technical after arguing fouls with West Virginia leading 16-15 with 5:52 left.
The Mountaineers trailed 7-1 through the first four-plus minutes before its defense began to create transition opportunities that were finished. After a Staten lay-up, Elijah Macon and Nathan Adrian had a pair of monster blocks that resulted in a two-on-one run out by Browne and Carter, who scored to get within two at 7-5. Adrian, whose defensive effort in place of Holton at the point of the press shouldn’t be overlooked, then added a putback bucket on the next offensive possession for the tie in the midst of a 9-0 run that gave WVU its first lead at 10-7 at the 11:16 mark. The Wildcats missed eight consecutive shots and committed three turnovers during the stretch.