MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia was down by 15 in the first half before proving it could play with No. 2 Kansas. The Mountaineers climbed within a bucket late in the second half but could not score the equalizer in a 61-56 loss.
After falling behind early, WVU played some of its best basketball in weeks, almost catching up to the Jayhawks — almost — before Kansas pulled out its 18th consecutive win.
“I don’t know how it’s a good game when you lose,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. “I’m not big on losing.”
Kansas center Jeff Withey matched his per-game average of 13 points with 55 seconds left in the half on a free throw that gave the Jayhawks a 37-28 edge. The 7-footer did not score again until a putback with 6:16 left and finished with 15 points, tying Travis Releford for the team lead.
Aaric Murray made 3-of-5 from 3-point range and had 17 points off the bench for West Virginia (9-11, 2-5 Big 12), which shot only 37 percent compared to 54 percent for Kansas (19-1, 7-0).
Murray also had a team-high seven rebounds, though Kansas owned the boards 36-27 overall.
Juwan Staten scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half for West Virginia, which lost for the third time in four home conference games.
With 10:18 remaining, WVU pulled within 48-46 on Staten’s top-of-the-key jumper, which initially was ruled a 3 before reviews showed Staten on the line (keeping him 0-for-7 from long distance this season).
With the crowd of 12,402 roaring, Kansas countered with a 7-0 run — capped by Releford’s 3-pointer — to lead 55-46. That corresponded with WVU going into a drought of just two baskets in more than eight minutes.
“(The review) might have killed some of the momentum, because it gave (Kansas) sort of a free timeout,” Staten said.
“I definitely feel like we had a big opportunity. Late, when we cut it to two, I really felt that we ha a chance to win the game.”
Trailing 14-2, WVU started 0-of-7 from the floor and didn’t make its first basket until the 12:35 mark when Deniz Kilicli sank a hook shot. Kansas eventually grabbed its biggest cushion of the first half at 22-7.
The Mountaineers trailed 30-16 before a 7-0 run energized the crowd at the WVU Coliseum. Kansas committed four straight turnovers during the stretch and threw away the ball again while holding for the last shot of the half, resulting in a Jabarie Hinds steal and buzzer-beating layup that drew WVU within 38-30.
“We played well the first half and we’re only up eight,” said Kansas coach Bill Self. “In the second half, we just kind of pieced it together. It’s good to get out of here with a ‘W’, that’s for sure.”
Freshman Eron Harris, after becoming a go-to shot-maker in West Virginia’s previous three games, was 0-of-4 from the floor against Kansas and finished with two points.
On the other side, Kansas freshman Ben McLemore committed two fouls in the game’s first 4:35 and played only eight minutes in the first half while committing three turnovers. He was turnover-free in 17 second-half minutes and finished with 13 points 3-of-7 shooting.
NO $25K BONUS FOR HUGGINS
One of the intriguing incentives factored into the contract extension WVU gave Huggins last November was a $25,000 bonus for beating Kansas. While coaches typically receive payment escalators for conference titles or postseason advancement, it’s odd to see a school reward a coach for beating a regular-season opponent.
Earlier Monday, Huggins was asked about the origin of that incentive.
“You’ll have to ask my attorney, because I have no idea,” said Huggins, claiming he only learned of the Kansas clause upon signing the contract.