The West Virginia University men’s basketball team played its worst half of the season Saturday at Kansas State and could seemingly never get out of its own way down the stretch.
Turnovers, poor shooting and some uncharacteristically bad defense hurt WVU as K-State mostly cruised to an 84-68 win against the visiting Mountaineers in Manhattan, Kansas.
“We weren’t ready,” WVU coach Bob Huggins said during a postgame radio interview. “We weren’t ready yesterday and we weren’t ready today. It’s so much a mental game. [Kansas State was] desperate, and I told them that. All the talk in the media around here was they were desperate and 0-4 in the league. Our guys weren’t desperate. They came in and just took it to us to start.”
For West Virginia (14-3, 3-2 Big 12), it was without a doubt the worst performance of the season. The Mountaineers turned the ball over 18 times against the Wildcats (8-9, 1-4 Big 12), which K-State turned into 28 points. Nine different WVU players had at least one turnover Saturday, led by three each from starters Jordan McCabe, Jermaine Haley and Emmitt Matthews.
“It was so bad [in practice] yesterday that I told them, ‘If you’re going to throw it away, you’re going to run,’” Huggins said. “They ran yesterday.”
West Virginia led 11-8 early in the first half — the Mountaineers’ largest, and last, lead of the day — before back-to-back 3-pointers from K-State’s Cartier Diarra and DaJuan Gordon put the Wildcats ahead for good and started an 11-2 run.
Kansas State led 42-25 at halftime and stretched that lead to as many as 24 points early in the second half, but the Mountaineers had a run in them still. Shot started falling, and the Mountaineers cut the deficit to just six points on a Brandon Knapper 3-pointer with 7:48 to play. That was a close as WVU would get as the Wildcats rattled off nine consecutive points following Knapper’s basket to essentially end the threat from West Virginia.
Huggins was especially disappointed in WVU’s effort considering what happened the last time the Mountaineers made the trip to Manhattan. Last season, West Virginia saw the Wildcats’ erase a 21-point second-half lead in a comeback win against WVU that sent the Mountaineers spiraling to one of the worst seasons of Huggins’ long career.
“We have three seniors that have been here and done this,” Huggins said. “They sat in the locker room last year. We have sophomores who sat in the locker room last year, up 21, and lost. We had three seniors and some sophomores who were here last year who saw the season crumble right here in this building. They were told that. What, am I not going to tell them? I told them, ‘This is where it went south a year ago.’ All I can do is tell them, and quite frankly, two of our three seniors weren’t very good. They weren’t enthusiastic, and now we’re kind of getting into the pouting thing. You throw the ball away, your man scores, you shoot one off the side of the backboard — but it’s not your fault.
“The only people who can do anything about it are the people in this room.”
Diarra finished with a game-high 25 points for K-State, while Xavier Sneed chipped in with 16 and Gordon scored 15.
For WVU, Chase Harler and Miles “Deuce” McBride each scored 11 to lead the Mountaineers while Gabe Osabuohien scored a season-high 10 points in the loss. WVU’s highly touted front court was mostly held in check Saturday, with sophomore forward Derek Culver finishing with eight points and three rebounds, while freshman forward Oscar Tshiebwe scored eight and grabbed seven rebounds.
West Virginia returns to action Monday when the Mountaineers host Texas the the WVU Coliseum. Tip between WVU and the Longhorns is scheduled for 7 p.m. with the game being broadcast on ESPNU.