Bob Huggins and his West Virginia players were soaking in the relief of a second-half comeback at Oklahoma State on Friday night when they caught a glimpse of their next opponent.
Kansas State, fueled by Dean Wade’s career-high 34 points, was cruising to a 91-75 win over Iowa State in Ames. The 6-foot-8 junior no longer looked trigger-shy, burying 6-of-8 from 3-point range in a display of a player suddenly comfortable in his aggression.
“He was huge. He shot it with confidence, played with confidence and wanted the ball,” said K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “If you are going to win road games in the Big 12, you have to have somebody step up and be special. Obviously, he was special.”
Iowa State coach Steve Prohm was convinced: “You come in here and get 34, you are very, very good player.”
Wade no doubt shot to the top of the scouting report for No. 7 West Virginia (12-1, 1-0 Big 12), which visits Manhattan, Kan., on Monday night to face the Wildcats (11-2, 1-0) in the second leg of a road swing.
“Can we get in another league?” Huggins joked about the 18-game round-robin against the No. 1 RPI conference. “Can’t we get in one of those leagues where we can be the kingpin and just smack everybody?”
The Mountaineers had their plate full at Oklahoma State, pulling ahead late with a 22-7 run over a 9-minute stretch. Reserve guard Teddy Allen and Sagaba Konate emerged as the go-to options in the second half by scoring 24 of WVU’s 46 points.
Their offensive breakouts helped compensate for Jevon Carter’s 2-of-10 shooting night and career-worst eight turnovers, though the All-American candidate found other methods to contribute (seven assists and five steals).
“This game is going to help us down the stretch,” Huggins said. “I’ve got to get in through our heads that this is what we do — we grind. There’s going to be a lot of games where we don’t play well. We’ve got to grind.”
Wade is among a trio of K-State juniors who average 14 points per game, joining Barry Brown and point guard Kamau Stokes, who averages 4.8 assists. Small forward Xavier Sneed (11.4 points) also has improved after a solid freshman season.
Huggins is banking on a better offensive game from Carter (16.6 points, 6.4 assists, 5.3 rebounds), while Daxter Miles (14.2 points) and Lamont West (12.4 points) are capable of big outputs. Carter and sixth man Beetle Bolden (10.3 points) are WVU’s only 3-point shooters hitting above 32 percent.
No. 7 West Virginia (12-1, 1-0) at Kansas State (11-2, 1-0)
Tipoff: Monday, 5 p.m. in Manhattan. Kan. (ESPNU)
The skinny: The Wildcats play at a deliberate pace — 321st nationally, according to KenPom, out of 351 teams — but their offensive efficiency rating stands 26th and they commit the fewest turnovers in the Big 12 (10.5)… Last year’s 79-75 K-State win at Bramlage Coliseum left WVU stewing over a 30-19 disparity in fouls. “Press Virginia” remains whistle-prone this season, ranking 314th in Division I at 21.1 fouls per game. … Though the school hasn’t formally announced a return date, it appears Esa Ahmad remains on schedule to return during the fifth game of league play, against Texas Tech on Jan. 13.
RPIs: West Virginia 24, Kansas State 91
Prediction: West Virginia 73-71