MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The Mountaineer men’s basketball team defeated Kansas, 91-79, Saturday afternoon at the WVU Coliseum in a victory that featured the most points West Virginia has ever scored in its 21 games all-time against the Jayhawks.
That offensive output helped the Mountaineers snap a five-game losing streak against KU. West Virginia is now 6-15 all-time against Kansas and 6-3 against the visitors from the Sunflower State in the Coliseum.
Despite all WVU’s offensive accomplishments, which included career highs by both Deuce McBride (31 points) (Editor’s note: (his total was upped from 29 in a postgame review that saw a basket credited to Jalen Bridges should have gone to him) and Taz Sherman (25 points), as they became the first Mountaineer pair to combine for 54 or more since Sagaba Konate (26) and Esa Ahmad (30) teamed for 56 against Valparaiso in 2018, the Mountaineer defense was a big part of the win as well.
Because of that it earned rare praise from West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins.
“I thought we were pretty good,” said WVU’s veteran coach of his team’s defense on Saturday, which had been sixth in the Big 12 in points allowed (70.4 ppg) and seventh in field goal percentage defense (43%). “I thought our on-the-ball defense was better. Our help defense was better. We did a better job of helping the helper. The only thing that we didn’t do a great job on was blocking out on penetration. We just need to do a better job of that.
“That was our best defensive performance of the year, and we still gave up (79),” he concluded, not able to help himself with some damning praise.
Kansas had to earn all 79 of those points the hard way, though. Unlike the Jayhawks’ 79-65 romp over West Virginia in Lawrence earlier this season, in which KU made 16-of-37 3-pointers, this time Kansas wasn’t nearly as prolific from behind the arc, as it made just seven-of-20 3-point tries.
In fact, WVU was the one that used the 3-pointer to great effect, converting 11 of 21 from that range. It’s the fourth game this season the Mountaineers have made 50% or better from 3-point range – 52.4% vs. Kansas, 63.2% vs. Texas Tech, 58.3% vs. Oklahoma and 57.1% vs. Richmond. West Virginia hasn’t had that many 50%+ performances from deep since the 2013-14 season when it had seven such games.
McBride made four of his five 3-point tries, while Sherman was four of seven. The Jayhawks’ Christian Braun, who drained six-of-12 threes while scoring 22 points against WVU at Allen Fieldhouse in December, made just two of seven threes this time in the Coliseum while scoring 11 points. KU guard Marcus Garrett led Kansas’ scoring effort Saturday with 18 points.
Besides the output by McBride and Sherman, West Virginia also got 19 points and nine rebounds from junior center Derek Culver.
“Obviously, those are the three guys that offensively kept us in the game,” said Huggins of McBride, Sherman and Culver. “I also thought Emmitt Matthews was terrific (scoring 10 points and grabbing five rebounds). He passed the ball, he guarded, he got key rebounds. He’s a 6-foot-7 guy who can switch off (defensively) on guards. I thought he was really good. He really helped us.”
Other than a five-minute span at the outset of the second half, the Mountaineers controlled Kansas from wire to wire. WVU built a 12-2 lead within the first four minutes of the game and still were on top by 10, 44-34, at halftime.
The Jayhawks came out of the break with a hot hand. They took advantage of a couple sloppy West Virginia turnovers to put together a 13-3 run that completely erased the home club’s lead within the first 2:07 of the second half. The score was still tied at 51-51 a few minutes later, but then WVU began to pull away again. A big 3-pointer by Matthews with 3:35 left was the final nail in KU’s coffin, lifting West Virginia to a 79-69 lead and it would cruise from there.
Huggins has seen enough Kansas comebacks, though, that he wasn’t comfortable until Jayhawk coach Bill Self called off the dogs in the final minute when WVU’s advantage stretched to 14 points. “That was about when I started relaxing,” noted Huggins. “We were still putting ourselves in tough positions with their pressure. But then it got to a point where there was no way they could come back, and (Self) just said stop fouling, so I was happy about that … just run the clock.”
With the win, 17th-ranked WVU improved its overall record to 13-5. It is 6-3 in the Big 12, giving the Mountaineers sole possession of second place in the conference behind No. 2-ranked Baylor (17-0/9-0) and ahead of No. 9 Oklahoma (12-5/7-4), No. 6 Texas (11-4/5-4) and No. 13 Texas Tech (13-5/5-4). West Virginia travels to Texas Tech for a meeting with the Red Raiders Tuesday night (9 p.m. ET on ESPN).
Meanwhile Saturday’s loss not only dropped Kansas to 12-5 overall and 6-5 in the conference, but it also may knock the Jayhawks completely out of the top 25 after it was ranked No. 23 in this past week’s poll. If KU falls out of the A.P. top 25 when the next poll comes out on Monday, it would end an NCAA-record run of 232 straight weeks Kansas has been in the top 25. UCLA had previously held the record with 221 straight ranked weeks from 1966-80. The Jayhawks had been ranked in the A.P. poll each week since Feb. 2, 2009, but their loss to West Virginia Saturday puts that streak in peril.
West Virginia’s steadily improving offense, which has scored 80 or more points in four of its last seven games, certainly got a lot of credit for Saturday’s win over Kansas, but the Mountaineers’ defensive performance shouldn’t be overlooked either.
After all WVU’s poor defensive efforts had been often condemned this season, so it’s only fair to offer praise when things go well.
Huggins had recently said West Virginia’s defense was one of the worst he had coached in his 39 years on the bench, though he now admits some of those comments were made for motivational purposes.
“I believed a lot of it,” said Huggins of his previous condemnation, “but I’m also not opposed to trickery. If that’s what it takes to get them playing better and playing harder, I’ll trick them.”
Whatever the method, it worked in Saturday’s win over Kansas.