The No. 13 Mountaineers pounded the boards, besting K-State 47 to 26, including a 13 to five edge on the offensive glass. WVU racked up a whopping 50 points in the paint - an ultra-solid 58.8 percent of its total of 85 and the most ever allowed in head coach Bruce Weber's five seasons - while allowing KSU just 18. And the second-chance points were just as lopsided at 15-2. The reasoning was multi-fold. First, West Virginia continually attacked the rim, getting excellent looks via its forwards and using slashing from its guards to penetrate KSU's defensive set for lay-ins. WVU also got other players involved in the board work, getting a career-best nine rebounds from Lamont West. The freshman was around the ball for much of the game, and KSU's lack of sheer size on the inside allowed him to make the most of his 6-8 frame.
That the Wildcats were sans 6-9, 237-pound forward D.J. Johnson also played a role, enough that head coach Bob Huggins said afterward that the Mountaineers could never have done as much damage in the paint had the senior been available. Johnson hit for 14 points and and eight rebounds in the first series meeting, a 79-75 loss at Bramlage Coliseum, but was ruled out with an ankle injury, creating the first line-up change for the 'Cats in the last 24 games.
"He was the difference in the first game," Weber said. "In that game you can throw it inside. Today, you don't have that inside force. You miss (Johnson). There's no doubt about it."
Still, how West Virginia wet about its rebounding work is worth a look. With Johnson, one might assume the Mountaineers simply used the likes of Elijah Macon, Brandon Watkins and Esa Ahmad to work the glass. But the three combined for just seven rebounds. Because Kansas State couldn't create solid looks inside, they instead settle for a series of jumpers. That led to longer rebounds, which benefits players like guard Jevon Carter, who finished with nine rebounds. Backcourt mates Tarik Phillip and Teyvon Myers each had four, with Phillip snagging three on the offensive end. It was much like the Mountaineers' scoring, with a dozen different players cracking the points column, while 13 had at least one rebound in an extremely balanced effort all the way around.
"Obviously D.J. Didn't play; I was kinda mad about that," Macon said. "He fouled me out last game. I wanted to play against (him). It was time for revenge. Make them guard, get into their bench. We knew they were one big short, so that was the plan, to get into them. They didn't have all their bigs, so it was attack the rim."
Which WVU did in spades. The Mountaineers hit for 50 percent from the floor overall, including 58.8 percent in the second half, largely because they were getting point blank looks by breaking down the defense with significantly better motion and ball movement than they showed early in the win over Oklahoma on Tuesday. There was little stagnation or dribbling on the perimeter, and when there was it was mostly done Carter, who often sliced into the heart of the defense on drives to the bucket. He hit 6-of-11 shots for a game-high 19 points, and made it look easy. Beetle Bolden chipped in nine points in a second consecutive impressive outing. Add in Ahmad's 11 points on 5-for-6 shooting and Macon's eight while going 3-for-4, and the Mountaineers controlled every facet of the inside play in garnering a much-needed win.
It was, in essence, the opposite of what transpired in the initial meeting, when 20 of Kansas State's 28 made field goals were lay-ups or dunks. In this game, the numbers were nearly reversed, as West Virginia hit 23 combined lay-ups or dunks on 64 shots.
"It was different being in that environment," Macon said of the game at Bramlege. "We played really bad. I think we had 223 turnovers in the first game. It was really bad out there. Playing here, it got us a little more comfortable and calmed down and we were able to do what we were supposed to do to get the win. I feel like everybody was there mentally on defense, even though we started slow. Once we got it going, we were a lot better."
"It meant a lot," Macon added. "It was a must-win game. We needed this win to stay on track and do what we are supposed to do and get ready for Kansas."