MANHATTAN, Kan. — The “we’re close” theme identified with West Virginia basketball for most of this season disappeared for the second straight game Saturday.
The Mountaineers were never close once Kansas State pulled out to a double-digit lead late in the first half, and Bob Huggins’ team never threatened a comeback after the Wildcats opened the second half on a 15-4 run.
In a 78-56 romp, these stats did not lie: K-State made a season-high 54 percent of its shots and West Virginia sank a season-worst 32 percent.
Shane Southwell buried four 3-pointers and finished with 20 points, one off his career high, while Thomas Gipson also scored 20, matching his career best with a terrific 9-of-11 shooting night in the low post.
“(Gipson) had his way,” Huggins said. “We had a couple freshmen on him and he just big-boyed them.”
In suffering its third consecutive loss, West Virginia (10-8, 2-3) absorbed the kind of beating that became too familiar last season. Despite an ability to spread the floor with 3-point shooters and average 80 points, WVU came unraveled and found itself down by 55-30 to the Wildcats. It was the second consecutive game in which the Mountaineers trailed by 20-plus points in the second half.
Eron Harris snapped out of his individual slump by scoring 21 points, including two 3-pointers that staked WVU to its last lead of the game at 8-5. But Terry Henderson didn’t score until 2:52 remained in the game, finishing with two points on 1-of-8 shooting.
Even Juwan Staten’s 16-point, 11-rebound performance was marred by a season-high seven turnovers against only three assists.
“They predicate themselves on playing good defense and they make you uncomfortable,” said Staten, who finished upside down on the assist-to-turnover ratio for only the second time this season.
The disparity in offensive execution was startling, considering West Virginia came in with the reputation for brandishing more firepower.
“We don’t pass the ball,” Huggins said. “When the game got turned (late in the first half), we came down, made a pass or two and shot it.
“They came down and they got shots inside the last 10 seconds (of the shot clock). Offensively, they make you work. They pass it and cut, pass it and cut, and they end up with somebody with a pretty good shot at the end.”
K-State’s Marcus Foster, limited to 13 minutes by foul trouble, still managed 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting. Fellow freshman Jevon Thomas was one of the only Wildcats to struggle with shooting (1-of-6) but more than made up for that with eight assists in a turnover-free 32 minutes.
Along with Southwell’s 6-of-10 shooting, the 6-foot-7 forward made all four free throws, grabbed five rebounds and handed out four assists—one on an alley-oop to Wesley Iwundu that sparked K-State’s end-of-the-half run.
“I loved it,” Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said. “It was an all-around game. He had 20 points on 10 shots and he made all his free throws. That is the best we have shot the ball against a good opponent.”
Southwell, who wore a radiant grin throughout much of the afternoon, relished the blowout: “We had 22 assists on 28 field goals, which is great for us.”
So Saturday afternoon’s barrage of open looks and easy dump-downs was refreshing. The kind of refreshment West Virginia’s defensive shortcomings have frequently afforded opponents.
Said Harris: “It seems like it always happens to us.”