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Taz v Kansas

WVU’s Taz Sherman exults after hitting a 3-pointer in the Mountaineers’ win over Kansas Saturday in Morgantown.

MORGANTOWN — Hey, Kansas, say hello to your little friends.

The Jayhawks know who they are.

They are the former blue bloods of big-time college basketball, who suddenly need a group transfusion since they all have fallen out of The Associated Press Top 25 poll.

Roll call!

Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, UConn and Louisville.

All of those prestigious basketball programs have gone by the wayside in this unique COVID-19 year.

And now, since 17th-ranked West Virginia University knocked off No. 23 Kansas 91-79 here Saturday in the WVU Coliseum, the Jayhawks are almost certain to join their blue-blooded brethren on the outside looking in at the Top 25 ranked schools.

The Jayhawks didn’t go quietly, however. At first it appeared they would as Kansas trailed 44-34 at halftime. But then the Jayhawks came out energized for the start of the second half, outscoring WVU 13-3.

That led to some nip-and-tuck moments with Kansas refusing to concede. But then, with 13:22, remaining a defining moment arrived. Mountaineer shooting guard Taz Sherman knocked down a 3-pointer from the right wing just as the shot-clock buzzer went off. It was an epic shot. That gave WVU a 57-53 lead and the Mountaineers never looked back.

The ramifications?

There are plenty.

n The Mountaineers bounced back from so-so performances against Florida and Iowa State to set the tone for the upcoming six-game gantlet.

n The victory should mean WVU will move up in the polls closer to where the Mountaineers belong.

n A first-time starting lineup including a pair of small forwards — Emmitt Matthews Jr. and Jaylen Bridges — worked well in the victory.

n WVU ended a streak of losing eight of its last nine games to Kansas.

But perhaps the biggest ramification was the way WVU’s “Big Three” of Derek Culver, Deuce McBride and Sherman stepped up. The 6-foot-10 Culver finished with 19 points and nine rebounds. Sherman scored 25 points and shot 4 for 7 from the 3-point line.

Then there’s McBride. The sophomore point guard poured in a game-high 29 points, hit 4 of 5 3-pointers, grabbed seven rebounds and dealt eight assists.

Not bad for a guy who was bouncing back from a two-game shooting slump of 7 for 26 (26.9%).

So what was the difference in this performance compared to the previous two games?

“It’s all about preparation,” said McBride. “I came into this game motivated and thinking every shot is going in.”

That was the big difference in this performance and WVU’s 79-65 loss at Kansas earlier this season.

“The difference was 100% defense,” said McBride. “It was way more aggressive [today] than it was back then. Our mindset today was the difference. We were determined to weather the storm.

“We wanted to be the ones attacking them, not them attacking us.”

That’s precisely what happened.

And, again, when three different players score as much as McBride, Sherman and Culver it speaks volumes

“When you have point totals like that,” said Sherman, “it means you are sharing the ball. We’re figuring out what kind of team we are and want to be. Defense comes first. We just have to make shots and make plays.”

That’s what it takes to be ranked in the Top 25. And that’s why the blue bloods are absentees.

“It’s going to look a little different,” said Sherman, referring to the Top 25. “But this whole year has been different. Maybe this is a good change of scenery.”

There’s no maybe to it.