Second Half Drought Doomed West Virginia
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia’s turnovers turned a potentially huge Mountaineer victory into a loss.
WVU led 48-45 Wednesday over No. 3 Kansas with 5:59 remaining on the Coliseum scoreboard.
But the Jayhawks outscored West Virginia 13-1 the rest of the way, as the Mountaineers committed seven turnovers down the stretch. Four of those came as a result of steals from KU’s Marcus Garrett.
That critical juncture allowed the Jayhawks to pull out a 58-49 victory in Morgantown, a place they had won just twice in their previous seven trips.
“Wins fall on the team and losses fall on the point guard,” said a down-trodden WVU sophomore point guard Jordan McCabe, who equalled his season-high scoring effort with 10 points but committed four turnovers and had zero assists.
For the game, West Virginia’s three point guards – McCabe, sophomore Brandon Knapper and freshman Deuce McBride – had eight of the Mountaineers’ 19 turnovers and none was credited with a single assist.
“Down the stretch, you give them more possessions than you get, that’s how they win games,” added McCabe. “We got stagnant at the end. That’s on me or (whatever point) is out there. We can’t stand around and get stale. It comes down to point guard play, and they won because of theirs.
“We turned it over 19 times and they did it 13. You can blame it on us being young or whatever, but that’s on us as a unit and myself as a point guard.”
West Virginia senior Jermaine Haley wasn’t putting all the blame on the Mountaineer point guards, though.
“I probably had four turnovers myself, so it wasn’t all on Jordan and the others,” noted Haley, who had just four points to go along with those four giveaways. “As much as we were turning it over, we also weren’t scoring on our end. We got 19 more possessions than them, I think, and we couldn’t capitalize inside or outside.”
WVU (18-6/6-5) got up 60 shot attempts but made only 19 of them (31.7 percent). Meanwhile the Jayhawks (21-3/10-1) were a much more efficient 20 of 45 from the field (44.4 percent).
“They got to the loose balls. Seemingly every ball that was tipped in the air on a rebound, they got. They beat us to the ball,” said West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins. “Then we’re not making shots. It’s not like we’re not getting any. We’re just not making them.”
Unfortunately the inability to make shots and the high turnover rate have plagued the Mountaineers most of the season. They are 14-1 when making 41 percent or better from the field, and are now 4-5 when held below that level.
They also average 14.8 turnovers per game on the season, which is the worst mark in the Big 12.
“We only had 19 (turnovers) tonight; at least we didn’t have 20 this time,” said Huggins sarcastically of his team’s giveaway propensity.
Of course besides just blaming one side, the team on the other bench deserves credit. Kansas has now held WVU to its two lowest point totals of the season – the 58-49 loss Wednesday at the Coliseum and the 60-53 KU win in Lawrence on Jan. 4.
“West Virginia was much better than us in the first half tonight. We were awful,” said KU head coach Bill Self, whose Jayhawks trailed by identical 30-24 scores at halftime in each game this year only to stage eerily similar second half comebacks. “In the first half, we guarded OK, but we couldn’t rebound and obviously couldn’t score.
“In the second half, we really guarded and rebounded better.”
Garrett, a 6-foot-5 junior wing, is regarded as one of – if not THE – best defenders in the country. He averages 1.8 steals per game and had a season-high five thefts against WVU on Wednesday, four of them in the decisive final six minutes.
“I don’t know if WE forced (West Virginia) mistakes as much as Marcus Garrett forced mistakes,” noted Self, whose club is rated No. 3 nationally. “Who guards better than him anywhere? He guarded 1 through 5 today. With the game on the line, he had three steals in a row on three consecutive possessions. He’s unbelievable defensively.”
West Virginia’s next task won’t be any easier. The Mountaineers go on the road Saturday to face the nation’s No. 1 team, Baylor (22-1/11-0). Kansas has the second-best defense in the Big 12 statistically, allowing just 59.83 points per game. The best defense in the league? The Bears, who are allowing only 58.35 points per game.
Things almost certainly won’t be any easier for WVU in Waco.