MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — For those wondering how hapless the Iowa State defense that half-heartedly attempted to slow down West Virginia on Wednesday night is, consider this.
The Cyclones did not get a single stop of the Mountaineers until 13:47 remained in the first half. At that point, West Virginia already had more assists — six — than it did in the entirety of its loss at Texas Tech.
“Our defensive effort for the first five minutes was just really poor,” said Iowa State coach Steve Prohm.
And so it went as the Mountaineers rolled to an easy 76-61 win.
Indeed, No. 13 West Virginia (18-4, 6-3 Big 12) probably hit cruise control too soon in a game that probably would have reached a 30-point margin with crisper execution by the home team.
Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins was beside himself afterwards, more bothered by the fact his team shot 50 percent from the free-throw line than pleased it shot 50 percent from the field.
“I’m having a hard time finding anything positive to come out of this other than we won,” Huggins said. “Our minds were elsewhere.”
When asked if there was any risk of falling into a lull in after building an early double-digit lead that the Cyclones (9-13, 2-7) never threatened to crack, Huggins seemed deeply troubled by the possibility.
“Why would it be [a danger]? They’ve been educated on the NET,” Huggins said of the NCAA’s ratings system. “Why would you do that knowing what’s at stake? If that’s the case, then shame on them.”
West Virginia’s 50 percent shooting from the line (12 of 24) tied for its second-worst performance of the season.
“How in the hell do you go 50 percent from the free-throw line if you’re a major college team? Are you kidding?” Huggins asked. “And how many were front ends of 1-and-1? So that’s like going, say, 12-for-30. That’s hardly shooting the ball.”
Fittingly, one of the rare trips in which the Mountaineers made both free throws was wiped out due to a lane violation.
West Virginia’s 19 turnovers were its fourth-highest total this year, which also stuck in Huggins’ craw.
“We were headed in a direction that was going to make us a pretty good team, I thought,” Huggins said. “Then we came out and turned it over 19 times. It’s ridiculous.
“Those are telltale signs. Free-throws. We missed how many point-blank shots? This group is generally pulling for each other and enthusiastic. There was no emotion tonight.”
For all his disappointment, Huggins did watch his team crack the 50-percent mark from the field for only the fourth time this season.
Freshman Oscar Tshiebwe led the way with his eighth double-double, getting 16 points and 10 rebounds. Tshiebwe certainly wasn’t coasting late, ripping a would-be rebound away from Iowa State forward Michael Jacobson and throwing it down for vicious dunk that extended the lead to 68-45 with just over 7 minutes remaining.
“Even if I know I’m not going to get it, I go for every offensive rebound like that,” Tshiebwe said.
Chase Harler was the next of five West Virginia scorers in double figures, finishing with 14 points and making 3 of 6 three-point attempts.
“He’s had a heck of a year,” Huggins said. “He’s the one guy you can rely on to know what he’s doing out there.”
Derek Culver and Emmitt Matthews each scored 12 points, and Jermaine Haley added 11.
Guard Sean McNeil missed the game with flu-like symptoms. Brandon Knapper missed last week’s game at Texas Tech for the same reason… the Mountaineers finished the game with 16 assists, 11 of which came in the first half. Haley had a team-high five… Iowa State has lost its past four trips to West Virginia by an average of 14.2 points.
The Mountaineers will try to correct their struggles on the road in conference play with a trip to Oklahoma (14-8, 4-5) on Saturday afternoon. The Sooners are on the tournament bubble and will be looking for a signature win.