The No. 7 Mountaineers had jostled with the Cyclones for more than 30 minutes, failing to covering shooters in transition and battling what was largely a four-guard line-up in among the toughest venues in the nation. But by finally imposing their will in the latter stages via a mix of offensive rebounding, finishing around the rim and the continued cumulative effect of the press, WVU emerged with a key victory that could set up a solid run in conference.
The catalyst - outside of the press and pacing - was Nate Adrian. The senior forward flashed perhaps his best overall game at the collegiate level, carrying West Virginia with a career-high 23 points on 7-of-10 shooting while converting 7-of-8 from the line and corralling 11 rebounds for his second career double double. Adrian was the lone Mountaineer to continually attack the boards throughout the game, and he seemed to fuel what at times was a lacking effort, especially on the defensive end. Iowa State shot better than 50 percent from both the floor and three-point range in the first half, but the press and lessening of the legs negated that hot streak, as the Cyclines came undone, managing just 29 percent from the floor, 27 percent from three in the second half.
It felt, at times, like and up-and-down pick-up game, and that finally fatally played into WVU's depth and style. The Mountaineers led 54-50 with 10:30 left when the fatigue began to take its toll on the home team. As Iowa State began to miss, both from three and with solid looks around the rim, the Mountaineers took advantage. Adrian started the decisive push with a pair of free throws and a three-pointer before Daxter Miles hit a three that was part of a 9-0 push that pushed the advantage to 70-55 with 5:36 left. Teyvon Myers, Sags Konate and Jevon Carter added two points each in the push, and in the span of three minutes, the knockout blow had been delivered.
Iowa State went from down just six points - an easy striking range with their shooting - with 8:40 left to a 70-55 deficit with 5:36 left. The Cyclones (13-8, 5-4) never got closer than 11 points the rest of the way as WVU (18-4, 6-3) handed ISU its second-worst loss of the season and its worst at home and in Big 12 play, securing the win down the stretch as Iowa State missed nine of 11 shots over the final three minutes.
"Seeming so," West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said of how the Cyclones were affected by fatigue. "It's hard for me to say they were or weren't, but seemingly it bothered them. They basically played eight or nine guys. That was the plan, for sure."
WVU finished with advantages in shooting, rebounds, turnovers forced (and points off of at 23-6) and free throw shooting, where it hit 17-of-20. All were major aspects of winning at Hilton Coliseum for the second season in a row in among the more impressive victories of the season. Adrian's brilliance was paired with exceptionally balanced scoring as Tarik Phillip hit for 15, Ahmad scored 14 and three others managed at least eight points. Carter, to his credit, sacrificed his offense at times to focus on slowing Morris, and the All-Big 12 selection had just eight points over 25 minutes of play.
"I really believe JC is as good of a defensive guard as there is in the country. He doesn't get the national acclaim for some reason," Huggins said. "(Adrian) has been a heck of a player really his four years here. He had a really good freshman year and then the injury as a sophomore. But he still played and played well. It's not easy to be on the front of that press. How man 6-8, 6-9 people an try and stay in front of Monte Morris and (KU guard Frank) Mason and do what he does? Then when you think that's the best thing he does he goes out and rebounds it and really made key shots for us."
The victory looms large for West Virginia because it allowed the Mountaineers to begin to separate themselves from the mid-pack of the league. WVU sits securely in third place with nine games left - one against each conference foe - and now has what amounts to a two-game lead on fourth-place Iowa State with the head-to-head tiebreak and the wins over Kansas and Baylor atop the league. The win also keeps momentum going into a three-game stretch against Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Kansas State before a game at KU in Allen Fieldhouse. If WVU can gain a sweep, it sets itself up to challenge for a Big 12 regular season title even with three conference losses thus far.
"It's really hard to do here," Huggins said of the win in Ames. "They play extremely well here and they have a great fan base. This is the best fan base in the Big 12. It really is.It keeps us in the hunt. Kansas-Baylor tomorrow. One of those is going to have two losses and we are going to play both again. It keeps us relevant in terms of the regular-season championship."