The first 20 minutes of Tuesday night's 85-72 win were highly competitive as West Virginia (18-4, 6-3 Big 12) and Iowa State (13-8, 5-4 Big 12) battled back and forth and traded several three point buckets in the first half. The action got off to a quick start as Nate Adrian scored seven of the Mountaineers' 13 points and West Virginia jumped out to an early 19-9 lead, but Iowa State quickly responded and senior guard Matt Thomas's shooting got the Cyclones back into the game.
The Cyclones battled their way back to a 27-27 tie but couldn't quite get over the hump - every time it appeared that ISU was on the brink of taking the lead, West Virginia (and mainly Nathan Adrian) had an answer. That was best exemplified when the sellout crowd at Hilton Coliseum rose to its feet with the final seconds of the first half ticking off of the clock and Adrian drained a 15 footer from the perimeter to silence the crowd and put the Mountaineers up 44-40 going into the lockerroom.
Even though the Mountaineers led at the break there was surely some disappointment with the way West Virginia defended Iowa State's three point shooting, as the Cyclones went 6-11 form behind the arc and and Matt Thomas hit 3-for-3 from the outside. The Cyclones hot shooting wouldn't continue though, as the halftime adjustments (or constructive criticism) of Mountaineer head coach Bob Huggins made the difference in the second half.
After allowing Iowa State to shoot 55 percent from three and 57 percent from the field in the first half, West Virginia's defense clamped down and held the Cyclones to 5-15 from three point land in the final 20 minutes of the game. Meanwhile, the Mountaineers shot fairly well from the outside and steadily expanded their lead. The knockout punch came with roughly nine minutes left though, when West Virginia went on a 9-0 run over the next four minutes and took a 70-55 lead with 5:30 remaining.
Still though, with the recent string of blown leads and poor execution down the stretch West Virginia fans couldn't be too comfortable. Tuesday night was different, however, as the Mountaineers hit a number of free throws down the stretch. The Mountaineers finished 17-20 (or 85 percent) from the charity stripe and never let Iowa State back into the game.
Adrian, who tallied a career-high 23 points in the win, went 7-for-8 from the line and after the game Bob Huggins praised his senior's performance.
"He's been a heck of a player in his four years here," Huggins said to IMG's Tony Caridi. "He had a really good freshman year and then he had the injury the sophomore year but he still played and he still played well. It's not eay to be on the front of that press and how many 6'8 or 6'9 guys can sit down and try to stay in front of Monte Morris? Then when you think that's the best thing he does, he goes out and gets double figure rebounds and scores 23 points and he really made some key shots for us."
Morris, who could be the Big 12's best overall guard, was a non-factor in the contest, as the senior was held to eight points on 4-of-14 shooting from the field. Morris was averaging over 16 points a contest entering the match-up but was held in check by Jevon Carter, who is the conference's best defender.
With the victory the Mountaineers move into sole possession of third place in the conference and will move another game closer to second when Kansas and Baylor square off on Wednesday night. West Virginia will look to stretch its record out to 19-4 when it takes on Oklahoma State on Saturday at 5:00 p.m. in Morgantown.