10th-ranked West Virginia opened the final stretch of its regular season by defeating Kansas State 65-43 at home on Saturday.
WVU took this one wire-to-wire to strengthen its bid for the second seed in the Big 12 Tournament, maintaining a lead from the first minutes of the game. That lead was narrow through the whole first half, however, and it took a late run from the Mountaineers to actually turn the game into a comfortable win.
“I thought in the second half we played pretty well, and we were pretty efficient,” said WVU coach Bob Huggins. “The first half was a miserable half for both teams.”
A shaky first half from both teams made WVU fans nervous, as the Mountaineers made just a third of their first-half shots. The saving grace was a tough showing on defense, allowing K-State to make just 28 percent of its shots in the half while forcing 11 turnovers.
Sean McNeil and Emmitt Matthews Jr. were the main sources of offense in the first, although they had to work for it. They combined for 16 points, but made 40 percent of their shots, while the rest of the team chipped in just 10 points.
Things started to turn around for WVU right out of halftime as it opened the second half on a 9-2 run to get the lead into double-digits for the first time in the contest. Things really got out of hand five minutes later when WVU went on a 17-0 tear to extend its advantage to 25.
While Matthews Jr. ceased his scoring at the halftime break, McNeil kept going to add another eight points. He finished with a game-high 18.
Kansas State was unable to get its offense going, shooting just 30 percent for the half and missing all 10 of its three-point attempts. Forward Davion Bradford paced K-State with 11 points, and guard Mike McGuirl finished in double figures with 10.
Forward Derek Culver was the only other Mountaineer in double figures with 11 points, eight of which came in the second half. He added six rebounds to his stat line as well.
Although their numbers may not reflect it, West Virginia also got major contributions from forward Jalen Bridges and guard Jordan McCabe, who added some clips to his highlight reel when he attacked the basket.
“I thought [McCabe] got better and better as the game went on,” Huggins said. “He didn’t start out real well, but then I thought as the game went on he really started to feel more comfortable. He’s just gotta make some of those shots that he had, but he’s really capable.”
Gabe Osabuohien also had a strong performance that won’t stand out on the stat sheet. In what has become a trademark statline for the senior, he went scoreless but grabbed seven rebounds and snagged a trio of steals, making himself a key piece to the victory without a lot of dazzle.
“He’s terrific, particularly when we switch defenses, and we try to gap everything a little bit more. He stops penetration from all directions. He was terrific,” Huggins said.
On the other hand, Miles McBride was kept quiet with just five points in the contest.
The victory for West Virginia improves the Mountaineers to 17-6 on the season and 10-4 in the Big 12, solidifying their spot just behind second-ranked Baylor in the conference standings. Kansas State slides to 7-19 overall and a ninth-best 3-14 in the conference.
Bob Huggins inches closer to his landmark 900th win as well, as this win raises his total to 898. WVU remains home for the rest of the regular season, and plays host to Baylor on Tuesday at 5 p.m. That will be shown on ESPN.