This not only seemed improbable, but all but unfathomable when the Mountaineers trailed 25-10 just 11 minutes in. But behind perhaps the finest overall performance of his career, WVU rallied via Devin Williams as the junior racked up 17 points and a career-high 18 rebounds. He made all seven free throws and tallied six boards on the offensive end, and could be credited with a seventh with his deflection off a free throw late that earned Tarik Phillip a second chance at the line after a miss on the front end of a one-and-one late.
"It looked like it wouldn't be good for us when the game started," head coach Bob Huggins said on the MSN by IMG postgame radio show. "But those guys just keep playing."
Indeed. Jaysean Paige paced the offense with a game-high 23 points on 10-of-17 shooting with six rebounds. Included in the line was a three-pointer with 1:05 left that turned a 74-72 deficit into a 75-74 lead which the Mountaineers would hold for good.
Tarik Phillip effectively got West Virginia into its sets while amassing nine points - including WVU's last two of the game to seal it at the line - along with seven assists and two steals. Teyvon Myers and Nathan Adrian hit a huge threes, with Myers also canning an off-balance jumper that tied the game at 60-60.
It was, by all accounts, a total team effort.
"Teyvon made shots. I thought Nate's three was huge. Devin got rebounds," Huggins said. "Jaysean got a score every time we needed it. Tarik was really good. I just told them that was a great team win."
Inside as hostile a home floor as one will find in the Big 12 outside of Allen Fieldhouse, WVU didn't get rattled. Iowa State, which was defeated by Baylor at home in January, hadn't lost two games in the building in the same season in five years. The Hilton had already dashed the road hopes of No. 1 Oklahoma and No. 4 Kansas this season, the Cyclones winning both by a combined 18 points.
In this one, in front of 14,384 in attendance, the Mountaineers proved their mettle, turning the ball over just five times in the second half after 10 first half turnovers. That, combined with a switch into a 3-2 match-up zone and ISU's fatigue, significantly aided the comeback, which was completed when Daxter Miles hit a jumper to earn West Virginia a 46-45 lead with 16:17 to play.
That the Mountaineers were able to get back within a point at 33-32 just eight minutes after Iowa State had built the 25-10 margin spoke volumes about the resiliency and intensity of the team. That was especially true coming off the 88-71 defeat at Florida in which WVU looked lost without Jonathan Holton. Handed a second straight road game, West Virginia came together to force the well-heeled Cyclones into 16 turnovers while finishing with advantages in rebounds, offensive rebounds, second chance points, bench points (39-10 on that one), and points in the paint.
"We went back to pressure," Huggins said as a main reason for the victory. "We had absolutely no pressure early. I said 'Guys, if we are going to go down, can we at least go down playing how we play?' And we started to turn them over. On offense, we tried to spread them more. We don't do a good job of running offense. We talked for two days about getting it inside and screening them and making it a more physical game than what they wanted. I thought we could get Devin isolated and have him at least rebound it on the offensive end, and he did."
Did Huggins think Iowa State became fatigued?
"Oh, yeah," Huggins said. "They don't play a lot of people. And they are used to playing how they wanted to play. We didn't want them to do that. Everything they missed late, they missed short and that's usually fatigue."
There was also one other point of motivation, Huggins discussing a pair of articles that emerged from the Florida loss. One noted that perhaps West Virginia wished to join the Atlantic-10 rather than face another SEC/Big 12 Challenge, in which the Mountaineers are now 0-3. Another simply played off the Press Virginia mantra with "Mess Virginia."
"We slipped the 'Mess Virginia' under their (hotel room) doors this morning so when they got up to go to breakfast, they saw the Mess Virginia," Huggins said of the article. "I mean, come on. We're 17-4, ranked 14th in the country and in first place in the Big 12."
Not anymore, coach. Now, because of the finest of all-around team performances, you're 18-4 with as impressive a win as at any time this season - Kansas included.