Kansas State’s 65-51 victory over West Virginia was low on style points, but it didn’t feel that way for the Wildcats as they walked off the floor Monday at WVU Coliseum.
While others may remember this game for fouls and missed dunks, they will remember it for how it ended a five-year losing streak in this building and where it put them in the Big 12 standings.
K-State (20-6, 10-3 Big 12) pulled away late and stayed on top of the conference race by taking care of business on a long road trip against the Mountaineers (10-16, 2-11).
It wasn’t as easy as expected, considering West Virginia had lost its past three games by 22 points or more and was decimated by injuries and player dismissals. No matter. K-State ended up winning by double digits, exactly the way a first-place team should.
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Barry Brown led the charge with 21 points while Xavier Sneed got hot from three-point range and finished with 19. Dean Wade, who was considered questionable to play, started and was healthy enough to contribute 10 points and six rebounds in 32 minutes.
The Wildcats had many positives, even if three missed dunks from Makol Mawien and a revolving door of big men committing fouls felt prevalent for much of the game.
Things swung K-State’s way on a bizarre sequence in the second half.
It started with Bruce Weber trying to steal a few rare seconds of rest for Wade and Brown with a media timeout approaching.
K-State led 42-35 with 12:52 remaining in the game when both Wade and Brown came off the floor. The plan was for the Wildcats to hold serve for a minute or so without their best players on the court. The move backfired and West Virginia erased its seven-point deficit in less than a minute. Instead of waiting for a media timeout, Weber called one of his own to get his star players back in the game.
The 7-0 run from West Virginia brought the home crowd to its feet, but K-State quickly seized back momentum by scoring the next five points on a dunk from Mawien and a three-pointer from Sneed.
Suddenly, Bob Huggins needed a timeout. But the Mountaineers were unable to fight back. K-State kept its foot on the gas and scored the next nine points with Mawien throwing down a dunk, Sneed hitting another three, Kamau Stokes making a jumper and Brown and Sneed draining free throws.
One moment it looked like the Mountaineers were back in the game. The next, K-State held a commanding 56-42 lead.
Just like that, the Wildcats bounced back from a discouraging home loss to Iowa State with a key road victory.
K-State also led at halftime, but it wasn’t pretty.
Brown scored a team-high 10 points and Dean Wade chipped in eight, but there weren’t many other positives for the Wildcats.
A plethora of early fouls forced Weber to get creative with his lineups, and he used 10 different players in the first half. That meant he turned to seldom-used reserves for important minutes, including Nigel Shadd and James Love.
It was hard for him to discover a combination that worked. K-State’s bench contributed two points in the first half, with the points coming on a transition layup from Mike McGuirl.
K-State’s backup centers had all kinds of trouble when they were on the floor. Mawien had four points and three rebounds in five minutes of playing time, but Levi Stockard, Shadd and Love combined for no points, no rebounds, two turnovers and six fouls.
In a telling sign of how far he has fallen since the beginning of the season, K-State coaches left Austin Trice on the bench the entire time. But he did see playing time in the second half.
This was a game in which the Wildcats really could have used Cartier Diarra, who is out indefinitely with a broken finger on his shooting hand. K-State’s bench isn’t contributing much without him.
West Virginia took advantage of the chaos and led 20-14 midway through the first half. In past games, it seemed like the short-handed Mountaineers had given up on the season. They were in last place of the Big 12 standings and were coming off three straight losses of at least 22 points. But they played with a higher level of energy against the Wildcats.
Still, K-State closed out the first half strong enough to lead 30-28 when Brown buried a step-back jumper on the team’s final possession. He is rapidly becoming a master of the mid-range and one of the nation’s best clutch shooters.
His go-ahead jumper marked the third straight game in which he has made an important shot in the closing moments of the first half. He hit a similar shot at Texas last week and nailed a Hail Mary from midcourt against Iowa State.
He was the focal point of K-State’s offense early, scoring 10 points without coming out of the game in the first half. Wade helped by making three of six shots on his way to eight points.
Some early struggles were to be expected given how long K-State had to wait to play this game. The Wildcats tried to leave Manhattan for Morgantown immediately after its game against Iowa State on Saturday, but its flight was delayed several hours. Then, after a short night of sleep, the Wildcats had two whole days to kill before a late Big Monday tip.
They looked jet-lagged at times.
But they found the energy to pull away in the second half. Now they will have four days off to rest up for their next game against Oklahoma State on Saturday at Bramlage Coliseum.