Worth the wait
WICHITA, Kan. -- West Virginia has pretty much made a living under Bob Huggins of making opponents look bad with hard-nosed defense. Kansas State coach Frank Martin is a Huggins disciple through and through.
Imagine, then, how bad each team might make the other look in a head-to-head matchup.
Well, imagine no more. It all went down Thursday night in front of a sellout crowd of 15,004 and an ESPN2 audience. And for the longest time it was just as ugly as anyone could imagine.
And then something rather amazing happened. The teams got into overtime and actually played like proficient offensive basketball teams. And when it was over, West Virginia had one of its best and most satisfying wins of the season.
After toiling through 40 minutes of awful free-throw shooting, turnovers, fouls and every other imaginable ill, West Virginia settled down in overtime and outlasted Kansas State, 85-80, in two of them.
The win gives the Mountaineers (5-2) at least some momentum heading into a quick turnaround. The Mountaineers have just one day to prepare for a 7 p.m. game Saturday at the Coliseum against Miami.
Kansas State (5-1), meanwhile, saw its unbeaten season finally end.
"That's just the way it's going to be,'' junior forward Deniz Kilicli said of the ugly nature of the game through most of the first 40 minutes. "We're only going to win games by fighting and doing the little things right. And finally we did those things.''
Kevin Jones, whose clutch 3-pointer near the end of regulation saved the Mountaineers by sending it to overtime, scored the basket that ultimately gave WVU the win and the two free throws that sealed it in the second extra period. He finished the game with a career-high 30 points to go along with 12 rebounds in 49 minutes.
Truck Bryant, playing all but a few seconds of the game, scored 24 points and Kilicli 12. Kilicli sat out long stretches in foul trouble and committed six turnovers, but he also had seven rebounds and kept WVU in the game early in the second half, when he scored 10 of his 12 points.
And freshman Aaron Brown hit a big 3-pointer in the first overtime and finished with 10 points.
Kansas State got 20 points from Rodney McGruder and a combined 31 from Will Spradling and Thomas Gipson. Spradling, though, fouled out in the second overtime and left K-State without a shooter when the Wildcats needed 3-pointers.
The win, which leaves Huggins just four short of 700 for his career, came in his first head-to-head meeting with Martin, who was on Huggins' staff when Huggins spent one season at Kansas State before taking the job at West Virginia.
And afterward, Martin blamed himself that the game ever went to overtime on Jones' 3-pointer with 13 seconds left in regulation.
"I should have known what he was going to do. I worked with the man,'' Martin said of the pop-out play that gave the 6-foot-9 Jones an open 3-point look. "If I'd substituted right we'd have won the game.''
Martin was kicking himself for leaving the 6-7, 275-pound Gipson in to defend Jones and Kilicli in the post instead of a more agile defender who could chase Jones on the perimeter.
But until almost precisely that point, the game was anything but a perimeter game. It was a foul-filled free-for-all at times, a game in which officials whistled a combined 55 fouls. And that just accentuated the fact that neither team is proficient at making free throws. West Virginia finished 18-for-31 and K-State 14-for-26. The teams also evenly split 36 turnovers, a combined 12 by Kilicli and freshman Gary Browne for WVU and four more by freshman point guard Jabarie Hinds.
But then a handful of those freshmen came through big, including the 3 by Brown, along with four more points he scored in the second overtime.
"That's the thing about freshmen,'' Bryant said. "You never know what you're going to get. But we need at least a few of them to step up every night.''
But after that sloppy, foul-plagued regulation -- both squads were in the 10-shot double bonus less than 10 minutes into the second half -- the two teams actually played pretty solid, foul-free basketball for much of both overtimes. McGruder sent the game to a second five-minute extra period with a runner with 6.2 seconds to play.
In the second, the teams again traded baskets back and forth and it was 80-all with under a minute to play. That's when Jones made a little move in the post to score and make it 82-80 with 26.6 seconds to play. Browne added one free throw with 11.7 seconds to go after McGruder missed a 3-pointer for Kansas State, but he couldn't make two to seal it.
It didn't matter, though, when McGruder missed another 3 with about five seconds to play and Jones wrapped it up with two free throws to break his own career-high point total of 29 set a few weeks ago in a game against Alcorn State.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org.