MORGANTOWN — The West Virginia University men’s basketball team was not short on motivation coming into Saturday’s game against visiting Kansas State.
The last time the two teams met, K-State stunned a listless WVU team in Manhattan. The last time West Virginia played a game period, it was another subpar performance for the Mountaineers in a loss at Texas Tech.
Saturday’s game was not always pretty — in fact it rarely was — but West Virginia, led by sophomore forward Derek Culver’s double-double, bounced back from its loss earlier this week to split the season series with the Wildcats in a 66-57 win.
Kansas State (9-12, 2-6 Big 12) had trouble slowing Culver down all afternoon at the Coliseum as the Youngstown, Ohio native finished with a game-high 19 points and 14 rebounds.
“We were much more ready to play than when we went out there,” WVU coach Bob Huggins said. “They’re hard to play against. [K-State coach] Bruce [Weber] does a great job. They spread you out offensively, and defensively they’re really physical and take a lot of things away from you.”
West Virginia (17-4, 5-3 Big 12) did not get off to the best start Saturday. A little more than two minutes into the game, Huggins was fed up with the effort he was seeing from his five starters. During a stoppage in play, the veteran Mountaineers coach — who passed Adolph Rupp on the all-time wins list Saturday and now sits at 877 for his career — put five new players on the floor.
“We’re going to get our ass back on defense,” Huggins said of the message he was trying to send with the early mass substitutions. “Or you’re coming out.”
The message appeared to be received loud and clear, as WVU went on to hold K-State to an 18-of-49 shooting performance, including a 3-of-17 mark from 3-point range.
“I guess that’s the low of the year for us [in 3-pointers], and it makes it tough,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “You know that’s probably why we beat them at our place. We made those shots.”
The Mountaineers were not much better from the floor Saturday, connecting on 21 of 50 field goals with a 6-of-19 mark on 3-pointers attempted. Some of the poor shooting by both teams was caused by good defense, but not all of it.
“It wasn’t a good shooting night for anybody, was it?” Huggins said. “We didn’t shoot it, they didn’t shoot it and it made it an ugly game. I don’t mind ugly games as long as we win them. I thought they did a really good job of spreading us, and I didn’t think we did as good of a job as some other times.
“We turned them loose way too many times, and we’re trying to play some other guys that hadn’t played quite as much because I’m hoping we can make some shots. Thank God Chase [Harler] is making some shots because he’s about the only one. We have guys shooting 20 percent. That isn’t very good. We have a lot of guys in 30 percents. We have to somehow figure out how to make some shots.”
West Virginia led by as many as 14 points in the second half and held the lead for the game’s final 30 minutes. K-State never really went away, however, and unlike recent home blowouts against Texas and TCU, WVU was forced to make some plays down the stretch to hold off the Wildcats.
“They made six 3s and we made three 3s, and it’s nine points,” Weber said. “So, you know you find a way to make one or two of those — some were open and some were forced. Their defense was much better than at our place obviously, but credit to our guys. We’ve made improvements and we’ve battled, but I would like them to play a little sharper and crisp. Part of that is how West Virginia plays.”
Culver was the only WVU player to hit double-digits in scoring, with freshman forward Oscar Tshiebwe and Harler, a senior guard, each finishing with eight points. For K-State, David Sloan scored a team-high 13 points while Xavier Sneed finished with 11.
The Mountaineers return to game action Wednesday, hosting Iowa State. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m with ESPN2 handling the broadcast.