MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia knocked off Kansas State 81-71 despite two glaring second-half deficiencies:
• Eron Harris and Terry Henderson scoring a combined two points.
• The Wildcats shooting 61 percent from the floor (16-of-26).
Even with Juwan Staten pouring in 35 points, could Bob Huggins have envisioned the Mountaineers pulling out a game under those circumstances?
“Probably not,” he admitted. “But you’ve got to win some like this. You’ve got to win some when people don’t play their best and somebody else has to step up, and obviously Juwan did.
“Let’s be honest: Wannie’s not going to get 35 every game, but he did today.”
Even West Virginia’s porous second-half defense produced a few shining moments in late-game situations. Over the final three minutes, when WVU extended its 68-67 lead, Kansas State committed three turnovers (all forced) and made 1-of-6 shots.
Huggins thought his team’s defense was stellar, at least for that crucial stretch: “For a three- or four-possession deal, that’s the best it’s been.”
It’s nearly impossible to fathom, but before this week, West Virginia had gone 1-25 in its last 26 games against RPI top-100 teams. (The lone streakbuster in that span was a nonconference win over No. 76 Eastern Kentucky last season. Who doesn’t remember that one?)
Now, following back-to-back wins over Baylor and K-State, the Mountaineers are 2-7 against the top-100 this season.
Staten enjoyed a postgame jog through the student section, creating a roar as he ran the gauntlet of high-fives.
“They’ve been here for us and it hasn’t been perfect this year—we’ve had a lot of ups-and-downs, a lot of close games that we haven’t pulled out,” Staten said. “The fact that they’re still coming out here and supporting us and being loud, I think we need to pay them back a little bit with some wins.”
SO SIMPLE? OR NOT?
Surely there was another defensive adjustment Kansas State could have made Saturday instead of repeatedly getting killed by Staten’s drives off ball-screens.
From what seemed like the simplest of sets, Staten was able to get to the rim or draw fouls at will. Yet teammate Eron Harris contended that Staten’s quickness and decision-making stresses defenders to the point “they don’t know what’s coming,” even from a ball-screen they saw countless times Saturday.
“They just know he’s got the ball, but they don’t know what he’s going to do it,” Harris said. “He’s faster than they are, but he’s got that mid-range jumper, too. And we’ve got our guys that he can kick out to, and that makes the offense almost unstoppable.”
For versatility’s sake, Staten also sank a 3-pointer Saturday, his first since the conference opener against TCU on Jan. 4.
“If he makes a jumper, he makes a jumper,” said perplexed K-State coach Bruce Weber.
The 37 free throws West Virginia attempted were the most K-State surrendered in almost two years—a string of 65 games that dates back to Feb. 11, 2012, when Texas attempted 40.
Staten’s 18 made free throws equaled the single-game school record held by Rod Thorn in a 1963 win over George Washington.
Staten’s 21 attempts were a career-high, surpassing the 19 he shot in a 96-83 win over Duquesne on Nov. 11. Thanks partially to the crackdown on defensive contact, Staten has reached double-figure attempts in four games this season after failing to do so even once as a sophomore.
Staten’s 165 attempts lead the Big 12 and are six more than Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart.