Mountaineers Pummel Wildcats In Must-Win Scenario For League Title Hopes
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia badly needed this one.
The Mountaineers, which had essentially pressed their own backs against the wall, finally jumped to a lead and continued to pummel the opponent, beating Kansas State 89-51 here Saturday. It was, by most accounts, a must-win to stop the bleeding of five losses in six games that marred a fantastic 15-1 start to the season.
It wasn’t very pretty – games against K-State rarely are – but it was just what the Mountaineers ordered as Beetle Bolden stoked the team to yet another early edge with three-point shooting while Sags Konate patrolled and controlled the interior with 19 points (one off his career high) and nine rebounds. Jevon Carter was his typical self, distributing the ball to the tune of 11 assists (his career best was 12 vs Fordham this year) while managing six points and four rebounds.
“Good to get a win at home,” Carter said. “We had to turn the pressure back up. We had been letting up lately. We have to stay at it and keep grinding. Every win is important. Get this game over with and it’s on to the next.”
Yes, they’re all important. But when you’re dealing with what the Mountaineers were – from the losing streak to questions as to team chemistry mixed with bouts of the flu that spread nearly team-wide – to come out and dominate this one was a huge step in moving the season forward in the right direction.
“It was like we couldn’t lose this game today,” said forward Teddy Allen, who finished with 12 points in 14 minutes of play. “We had energy. It was either we win this game and we have a chance at the league and control our own destiny or we lose this game and are the mercy of all the other teams in the league.”
The Mountaineers controlled this one from the start. WVU jumped to a five-point lead over as many initial minutes, then extended that to as many as 11 in the first half in claiming a 39-30 lead at the break. It wasn’t a very clean half, WVU having issues passing the ball, leaving Kansas State shooters open and playing at a rather middling execution level overall that led to some obvious frustration from head coach Bob Huggins.
But as has happened in nine of the last 10 series meetings between the schools, WVU found a way while the Wildcats wilted. The reasons were obvious. The Mountaineers dominated in the paint with a 26-8 edge. They forced 15 turnovers and scored 20 points off those miscues. The bench scoring punch was back, managing a 33-9 advantage that assayed worries about the depth due to illness. The group also made free throws, hitting 23-of-24, while shooting 54.9 percent from the floor – the highest percentage since the win over Morgan State in the third game of the season.
West Virginia also did something it hadn’t over its last 60-plus minutes of play: It routinely got stops. It wasn’t perfect, and was far more blue-collar than blue blood. But WVU slapped K-State with both a man and zone looks that foiled the Wildcats on offense. Forced to rely far too heavily on threes, KSU misfired time and again, managing a six-plus minute scoring drought in each half, including one key stretch late in which the Mountaineers put the game away in taking a 64-42 lead with eight minutes left.
It wasn’t the complete offensive meltdown seen in last year’s Big 12 Tournament semifinal between the teams, but it was close. Down 12 points with 13 minutes left in that game, Huggins went to the 1-3-1 zone. Kansas State had no answer, managing just 11 points the rest of the way as the Mountaineers closed with 24 of the game’s final 35 points in the 51-50 victory that sent them to the league title game.
This time around, Huggins pulled the zone again at the midway point of the second half. Again there was no answer, WVU scored 13 straight points in one run, and finished the game on a 20-4 flourish that resulted in 89 points, tying the most by the Mountaineers in Big 12 play this season.
But the key really wasn’t offense as much s it was a defense Huggins pulled from his rather full bag of tricks. The zone West Virginia used to smother K-State late wasn’t a 1-3-1, or a 2-3, or even a true a point drop. It was a sort of amorphous look in which Carter manned the middle but would drop into the paint as needed. So it had the look of a point drop, with the drops being shallower and differing assignment coverages on the floor.
Hugggins was asked if he wanted to elaborate. “Not really,” he deadpanned. The players were equally as mum.
“I don’t want to give away our secret,” Carter said. “Something we recently installed.”
But the goal was obvious. With the press breaking down, the man look suspect at times and the 1-3-1 being a useful late game, stalling defense, WVU needed something else to turn to when it needed stops. It found it against Kansas State.
“Just mix it up,” Allen said. “Everybody knows we can come with the pressure. We are trying to find another thing, playing around with stuff. Everyone talks about offensive rhythm, how we are laying it down offensively, but there’s just as much to defensive rhythm as their is offensive rhythm. Gotta trust each other and make the right rotations. To see a game like this is good. It’s just a little something we are trying out.”