West Virginia’s 65-59 victory over Kansas State on Tuesday at Bramlage Coliseum was the type of game that will be remembered for numbers other than the final score.
For example, the Mountaineers and Wildcats combined to lose 45 turnovers, commit 54 fouls and shoot 64 free throws. The result was a choppy, stop-and-go slugfest that took longer than 2 1/2 hours to complete.
K-State basketball coach Bruce Weber described it as “awful” and “bad.”
Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
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“I thought it was beautiful,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “I have never had an ugly win.”
However you describe what transpired in front of a sellout crowd of 12,528 and a national TV audience, it went down as a positive for No. 17 West Virginia (17-3, 5-2 Big 12) and a negative for K-State (12-9, 5-3).
The Mountaineers created havoc with a full-court press and played the game on their terms, making enough plays late to win a conference road game. The Wildcats did not play with enough toughness or poise to protect their home floor.
“Every time we play Kansas State it is one of these games,” WVU guard Juwan Staten said after scoring 11 points. “It is a rough game that turns into an ugly game. It is hard to get rhythm and it is hard to run plays. You just have to go out there and just fight. That is what this game turned into. It turned into a dog fight and it came down to who wanted it more.”
K-State, which had won six straight against ranked opponents at home, wanted this one badly. But trying to beat a full-court defense can take a lot out of a team. The task was simply too taxing for a short-handed group — K-State played much of the game without senior forward Nino Williams. The team’s leading scorer in each of the past three games and reigning Big 12 Player of the Week missed all but eight minutes of the game with an injury to his left knee. He scored six points in the early going.
The Mountaineers made things difficult on the Wildcats from start to finish by defending every inch of the floor. They forced 25 turnovers and committed 28 fouls, taking finesse completely out of the game. K-State struggled against the pressure often, constantly getting whistled with 10-second violations and losing possession on in-bounds passes, as well as throwing the ball away.
“We were not used to it so were sped up a little bit,” sophomore K-State forward Wesley Iwundu said. “They just get after it before half court. That is probably the toughest thing.”
The Wildcats managed to beat it enough times to give themselves a shot. Problem is, they exerted so much energy doing so that when players did get open they rarely shot the ball with precision.
“I have never played in a game like that before,” K-State sophomore guard Marcus Foster said after scoring 15 points. “It was like a fight.”
K-State shot 36.7 percent (18 of 49) from the field and 57 percent (20 of 35) from the free-throw line. West Virginia didn’t exactly put on a shooting clinic, either, (36.4 percent from the field and 72.4 from the free-throw line) but it made enough shots to win.
K-State rallied from a 26-24 halftime deficit to take a 35-33 lead with almost 15 minutes remaining, but West Virginia quickly went on a run behind 12 points from Tarik Phillip and led the rest of the way.
Trying to mount a comeback with freshman Malek Harris in the paint instead of Williams was too difficult.
“He has been our leading scorer and best player, a senior,” Weber said of Williams. “Obviously that makes a difference. That put a lot of strain on Malek. We don’t know (about Williams’ status), he tweaked his knee. We will know more (Wednesday) what is really wrong with him. Hopefully it is not a season-ending thing. We don’t know right now.”
Still, K-State could have won with better free-throw shooting. It made 10 of 22 at the line in the second half, falling behind by as many as nine.
Those were the numbers the Wildcats will remember most.
“We told them it was going to be a bar-room brawl, a bar-room fight,” Weber said. “That is just how it was and how they play. They play aggressive and they foul every possession. You have got to play hard and fight through it. You have got to make free throws when they do foul you. I thought we hung there … When we had opportunities we didn’t finish.”