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West Virginia Once Again Gave Away A Lead At Allen Fieldhouse In Settling For A Season Split

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Perhaps it should be expected at this point.

There's not much to write after that one. The No. 9 Mountaineers led by 14 with with less than three minutes to play in among the most difficult venues in the country and let it all slip away in a crushing 84-80 defeat that will linger. The game was similar to WVU's other overtime defeat at KU, that coming in late in the 2015 season when West Virginia gave up an 18-point edge only to fall in overtime.

It seems every time the Mountaineers (20-6, 8-5) reach the top 10, they stub the proverbial toe. There were the losses to Oklahoma and Kansas State when WVU reached No. 7 this season. Those defeats bounced them to No. 18, only to have the team rebound with a pair of wins - one coming at home over then-No. 2 Kansas - to again crack the top 10. The pattern held, and WVU lost to OKlahoma State before two more wins put them at ninth entering this game.

But nothing, not even a pattern, could prepare one for this. KU hadn't lost two in a row at Allen Fieldhouse since 1988, but was never on the ropes as bad as it was with West Virginia outplaying it in nearly every phase. WVU was controlling the boards, shooting a higher percentage, converting at the line at a high level and showcasing stifling defense that held the Jayhawks without a field goal for two different six minute stretches in the second half. West Virginia did most everything well enough until the final three minutes, when like a cocky Apollo Creed looking for the knockout instead of the unanimous decision, it suddenly went away from the very fundamentals that got it to the final round in the first place.

It took shots too early in the clock, failing to run off more than a half minute of time. It missed free throws - including 4-of-7 in a key stretch - and it showed a shocking passiveness on inbounds plays, twice turning the ball over deep in its own end and essentially handing Kansas badly needed possessions. West Virginia committed four turnovers over the final three minutes and added four more in overtime after committing just 13 over the previous 37 minutes of play. And on its final possession, it chose to stand around and watch Tarik Phillip dribble aimlessly on the wing for eight seconds with no cutting help. The guard them compacted the issue by taking a step back three instead of challenging and trying to draw contact with the game tied at 71-71.

At that point, when the regulation buzzer sounded, the Mountaineers deserved whatever they got. And what they got was yet another slap-to-the-face defeat in Phog Allen that cemented Kansas' status as the Big 12 frontrunner. With a chance to get within a game, West Virginia again wasted a major opportunity in what has become an up-and-down season. It lost for the fifth time in five tries at Kansas when the Jayhawks have shown the slightest of cracks in the armor this season. But that's over now, as is the realistic chance for a Big 12 regular season title.

It should never have come to this. The game was initially one of runs, WVU jumping to a 10-0 lead before KU responded with a 16-0 run to go ahead 26-21 with 5:52 left. Both would experience scoreless stretches, the Mountaineers going four-plus minutes in the first half while the Jayhawks dealt with being unable to hit a field goal for two lengthy periods in the second half. In the end, the teams jostled back and forth over the final 64 seconds of the first half, when West Virginia pieced together an 8-0 run to lead 39-32 at the break.

That momentum carried into the second half, as the Mountaineers repeatedly attacked KU's man defense with dribble drives and putback buckets. The biggest issue for WVU through the first seven minutes was the accumulation of fouls. Kansas was in the bonus with 13:38 left, while the Jayhawks had just one foul called on them to that point. But a pair of six-plus minute stretches without a field goal for Kansas put West Virginia in the position it desired, ahead 61-50 going into the final four minutes and the 14-point edge going to the final three. But that all evaporated via the mistakes and some clutch Kansas defense via the press combined with some timely outside shooting.

The question now is how long does the hangover - and there will be one - last? West Virginia is actually fortunate this was a Big Monday game with the end result. It now has a full four days, the longest such stretch within the Big 12 schedule, to nurse the gaping wounds before a pair of home games against Texas Tech and Texas. But there's no doubt this one leaves a mark, both on the record and the heart.

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