The West Virginia University men’s basketball team played its worst half of the season Saturday at Kansas State and could seemingly never get out of its own way down the stretch.
Turnovers, poor shooting and some uncharacteristically bad defense hurt WVU as K-State mostly cruised to an 84-68 win against the visiting Mountaineers in Manhattan, Kansas.
“We weren’t ready,” WVU coach Bob Huggins said during a postgame radio interview. “We weren’t ready yesterday and we weren’t ready today. It’s so much a mental game. [Kansas State was] desperate, and I told them that. All the talk in the media around here was they were desperate and 0-4 in the league. Our guys weren’t desperate. They came in and just took it to us to start.”
For West Virginia (14-3, 3-2 Big 12), it was without a doubt the worst performance of the season.
The Mountaineers turned the ball over 18 times against the Wildcats (8-9, 1-4 Big 12), which K-State turned into 28 points. Nine different WVU players had at least one turnover Saturday, led by three each from starters Jordan McCabe, Jermaine Haley and Emmitt Matthews.
“It was so bad [in practice] yesterday that I told them, ‘If you’re going to throw it away, you’re going to run,’” Huggins said. “They ran yesterday.”
West Virginia led 11-8 early in the first half — the Mountaineers’ largest, and last, lead of the day — before back-to-back 3-pointers from K-State’s Cartier Diarra and DaJuan Gordon put the Wildcats ahead for good and started an 11-2 run.
Kansas State led 42-25 at halftime and stretched that lead to as many as 24 points early in the second half, but the Mountaineers had a run in them still. Shot started falling, and the Mountaineers cut the deficit to just six points on a Brandon Knapper 3-pointer with 7:48 to play. That was a close as WVU would get as the Wildcats rattled off nine consecutive points following Knapper’s basket to essentially end the threat from West Virginia.
Huggins was especially disappointed in WVU’s effort considering what happened the last time the Mountaineers made the trip to Manhattan. Last season, West Virginia saw the Wildcats’ erase a 21-point second-half lead in a comeback win against WVU that sent the Mountaineers spiraling to one of the worst seasons of Huggins’ long career.
“We have three seniors that have been here and done this,” Huggins said. “They sat in the locker room last year. We have sophomores who sat in the locker room last year, up 21, and lost. We had three seniors and some sophomores who were here last year who saw the season crumble right here in this building. They were told that. What, am I not going to tell them? I told them, ‘This is where it went south a year ago.’ All I can do is tell them, and quite frankly, two of our three seniors weren’t very good. They weren’t enthusiastic, and now we’re kind of getting into the pouting thing. You throw the ball away, your man scores, you shoot one off the side of the backboard — but it’s not your fault.
“The only people who can do anything about it are the people in this room.”
Diarra finished with a game-high 25 points for K-State, while Xavier Sneed chipped in with 16 and Gordon scored 15.
For WVU, Chase Harler and Miles “Deuce” McBride each scored 11 to lead the Mountaineers while Gabe Osabuohien scored a season-high 10 points in the loss. WVU’s highly touted front court was mostly held in check Saturday, with sophomore forward Derek Culver finishing with eight points and three rebounds, while freshman forward Oscar Tshiebwe scored eight and grabbed seven rebounds.
West Virginia returns to action Monday when the Mountaineers host Texas the the WVU Coliseum. Tip between WVU and the Longhorns is scheduled for 7 p.m. with the game being broadcast on ESPNU.
WVU 81, TCU 49: TCU came into Tuesday’s game against No. 12 West Virginia as the most surprising team in the Big 12, and perhaps one of the most surprising teams in the country.
The Horned Frogs, picked to finish last in the conference’s preseason coaches poll, were unbeaten in the league entering the game against the Mountaineers at the Coliseum. Exiting the Coliseum, however, TCU would take its first Big 12 loss back to Texas.
West Virginia built a double-digit lead in the first half and seemingly had an answer for anything TCU could offer in a 81-49 win.
“Outplayed, out-executed, out-coached, out-performed,” Frogs coach Jamie Dixon said after the game. “I’m disappointed.
“I thought we would be ready. I thought we would be executing better. We had Sunday and Monday to prepare — obviously Sunday was light — but we looked like we didn’t prepare at all.”
WVU (14-2, 3-1 Big 12), much like in its win last week at home against then-No. 22 Texas Tech, leaned heavily on its bench for scoring against TCU on Tuesday. With around seven minutes gone in the first half and the game tied 9-9, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins made line-change style substitutions that paid off immediately.
Sophomore guard Brandon Knapper was one of those four players to enter the game and immediately drained a mid-range jumper from the left elbow. A few possessions later, Knapper connected on a 3-pointer with an assist from senior guard Chase Harler, who was also one of the four fresh Mountaineers on the floor.
After Knapper grabbed a defensive rebound on the other end of the floor, it was Harler’s turn to make a 3-pointer as West Virginia’s lead grew to 15-11.
“Chase has been terrific,” Huggins said. “Normal people don’t understand how much Chase brings to the table for us. He has been, in a lot of cases, our best defender on the floor. He has made shots. He’s constantly telling other guys where to go and what to do. He has been fantastic.”
The Mountaineers would score the next eight points and never really look back as TCU struggled to make shots.
As the half began to wind down, another WVU bench player — junior college transfer guard Sean McNeil — took his turn torturing TCU. McNeil missed a few open looks from distance on his first few shot attempts, but closed the half with eight points in the final 3:25 before the break.
“Honestly, that’s why we recruited them<” Huggins said. “We recruited Sean because he made shots, and we went through a year where we couldn’t make shots. We thought he was a guy that could come in and consistently give us somebody on the perimeter that they had to guard. [Junior guard] Taz [Sherman] is the same way. You’re talking about the leading junior college scorer in Division II junior college, and the second leading scorer in Division I junior college. They scored there.”
West Virginia clamped down in the second half as it extended its lead and frustrated the Frogs for the final 20 minutes. TCU finished Tuesday’s game with 22 total team fouls and 20 turnovers while the WVU defense forced the Frogs into a 14-of-44 shooting performance, including 7 of 23 from 3-point range for the Big 12’s best 3-point shooting team.
“We got some shots early, I thought,” Dixon said. “It looked like we knew a little bit of what we wante dto do and executed a little bit. [We had] a couple baskets early that were really caused by us, but as it went on we kind of withered.”
For the Mountaineers, sophomore forward Derek Culver registered his fourth double-double of the season with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Freshman Oscar Tshiebwe scored 11 with 6 rebounds, while fellow freshman Miles “Deuce” McBride scored 11 in the win.
TCU’s R.J. Nembhard (14 points) and Desmond Bane (13) led the Horned Frogs (12-4 overall, 3-1 Big 12) in scoring in the loss.