LAWRENCE, Kan. — No. 20 West Virginia experienced another painful late-game fade inside The Phog, though coach Bob Huggins technically wasn’t around to see it.
With No. 13 Kansas ending the game on a 19-3 run, the Mountaineers’ double-digit lead melted down into a 77-69 loss, following the same failed template displayed here in 2015 and 2017.
Huggins missed the final 8.5 seconds, ejected following back-to-back technicals from John Higgins and James Luckie. An unfathomable 35-2 deficit in free-throw attempts sent the coach boiling over.
“I’ve never been in a game like that,” Huggins said. “I’ve never been in a game where the disparity was 35-2.”
Even when West Virginia (19-8, 8-6) reached the free-throw line, a free throw wasn’t necessarily forthcoming. Daxter Miles’ 22-point performance was tempered by his own lane violation as he attempted a late one-and-one.
Still trailing 68-66 on the next possession, the senior Miles had another opportunity when an offensive rebound was kicked out to him on the wing. Yet after making 6-of-9 from 3-point range, he declined the open 3 and tried to throw a pass inside where Kansas made the steal.
“I should’ve shot the ball instead of forcing the ball inside,” a tearful Miles said outside the WVU locker room.
“I put this one on myself. All the scoring doesn’t matter when you lose. As a senior you’ve got to know what do in those last moments.”
Kansas (21-6, 10-4) kept alive its hopes of a 14th straight Big 12 championship thanks to 7-footer Udoka Azubuike scoring 21 points — 15 of those in the second half when the Allen Fieldhouse crowd re-energized another comeback.
Only a 42-percent foul shooter, Azubuike sank 7-of-10 free throws to accompany his 7-of-8 shooting from the floor.
Azubuike and his West Virginia counterpart Sagaba Konate banged and tangled much of the night, their thick bodies thudding the court after collisions. Both had three blocks, though Konate scored nine points, unable to match Azubuike’s offense.
Devonte Graham scored 15 and Malik Newman added 11, combining for 20 points after halftime when the Jayhawks avoided a fourth home loss this season.
“We kept our composure and kept grinding,” said coach Bill Self.
Miles nearly led West Virginia to a breakthrough victory. He sank a 3 to snap a 37-all tie and buried two more as West Virginia surged ahead 58-46 with 10:18 left.
But the shooting turned cold from there, with the Mountaineers making only four of their final 17.
The Kansas defense deserved some credit. Azubuike blocked Jevon Carter’s driving attempt and fueled a runout that set up Newman’s game-tying 3 at 66-all.
Carter had seven assists and six rebounds while making only 6-of-17 shots in scoring 15 points. He had very little to say about closing his career 0-4 in Lawrence despite holding late leads three times.
“It’s hard,” Carter said. “It’s hard.”
Said Huggins about the postgame message he gave his players: “It’s not their fault.”
The Mountaineers haven’t had trouble building early leads here, and Carter’s 3-pointer put them up 30-24. Holding leads, of course, has been the issue, and Kansas countered with a 10-2 run, featuring two free throws by Azubuike that drew a louder cheer than the 2008 national title team.
A low-post hook shot by Konate squared the game at 34-all, and the teams went to halftime tied.
The Mountaineers had yet to attempt a free throw at intermission. Their first trip to the line came early in the second half when Konate finished an and-one.
WVU’s other free throw occurred with 4:33 remaining, when Carter missed a chance to finish off a three-point play.
Lamont West added 11 points for West Virginia, which made 14-of-26 from 3-point range.
“One thing they did was shoot a lot of 3s,” Self said. “So even though they made a lot, they didn’t put us in the situation to foul much.”