(Highlights by Teran Malone)
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — For the first time this season, West Virginia was largely non competitive in a game.
As a result, the Mountaineers suffered a third straight loss and their first of the season at the WVU Coliseum at the expense of No. 3 Kansas, 76-62.
The Jayhawks controlled the first half with their offense and buckled down defensively over the final 20 minutes to put to rest any thought of a second-half comeback and keep the Mountaineers (10-5, 0-3) winless in Big 12 play.
“We seemingly miss more 2 footers than any team in American history,” WVU head coach Bob Huggins said. “It wasn’t like we didn’t have shots. We just don’t make them. It’s hard to make a shot from 2 feet, 4 feet or 8 feet if you’re not looking where you shoot it. As much as we’ve talked about it, we still don’t look at the rim.“
KU made 9-of-11 shots, including 6-of-7 three-pointers over the first 8:01 to hold a 24-14 lead.
“Defensive problems on us,” WVU guard Joe Toussaint said. “We made them feel comfortable from the beginning of the game and that’s where it went from there.”
After Texas Tech transfer Kevin McCullar missed the Jayhawks’ first attempt from long range, Kansas (14-1, 3-0) made its next six triples in a span of 3:16 — two from freshman forward Gradey Dick, two from guard Dajuan Harris and one each from Jalen Wilson and McCullar.
“We’ve started games where we’ve shot it well, but I don’t know that we’ve shot it 6 for 6 from three well,” Jayhawks’ head coach Bill Self said. “And it was all different guys. We did not play as well as the score indicated in the first 6 minutes. We just made shots.”
That forced the Mountaineers into playing catch-up the remainder of the contest, though WVU pulled to within 30-24 on a triple from Emmitt Matthews Jr. 6:22 before halftime.
Kansas regained a double-digit advantage at 36-26 on McCullar’s jumper before matching its largest lead of the opening half on Dick’s third triple, which made it 40-28 at the 2:35 mark.
Tre Mitchell ran off six straight points to cut WVU’s deficit in half, and the Mountaineers were to within five after Toussaint made 1-of-2 free throws 35 seconds before the break.
A bizarre, but key sequence followed in which Harris missed a trey with 8 seconds left and Wilson came up with the offensive rebound as the shot clock went off. With 5 seconds to play in the half, the Mountaineer mascot inadvertently sounded its musket and Wilson reacted by attempting somewhat of a desperation shot from the perimeter. Yet not everybody stopped playing, including Kansas’ KJ Adams, who rebounded Wilson’s miss, drew a foul and made two free throws to send the Jayhawks to halftime with a 42-35 lead.
“This is the only place where they shoot a gun,” Self said.
He elaborated about the key half-ending stretch, which illustrated Adams’ focus level and intensity.
“That was big. We played too well in the first half to be up five,” Self said. “We jacked around. We were up double figures with 2 minutes left and they had momentum. If they get a stop there, they also get the last shot of the half.”
The Mountaineers got no closer than six the rest of the way, which came on Matthews’ three free throws that left WVU with a 47-41 deficit with 16 minutes remaining.
Yet those foul shots came during a stretch of 5-plus minutes between field goals for West Virginia, which got a triple from Mitchell to start its second-half scoring, but did not make another basket until Erik Stevenson’s layup at the 13:49 mark, which left KU with a 52-43 lead.
“When you’re flunking a class, you study more or you continue to flunk the class. If you continually don’t make a shot and aren’t consistent at the free-throw line and don’t make shots where you know you’re going to get shots from, you’re probably going to flunk the class,” Huggins said. “I don’t know why it doesn’t bother them when they miss shots. You’re not overly exerting yourself to shoot free throws, especially when you have managers in there rebounding for you. I thought we had solved that problem. I was wrong again.”
Stevenson’s jumper with 9:26 remaining marked the Mountaineers’ third bucket of the second half and second in a stretch of nearly 10 minutes. By that time, KU was in complete control and led 62-45 thanks to a 10-0 surge that preceded Stevenson’s second basket of the second half.
“They missed some good looks,” Self said. “Our defense was not poor and it was pretty good, but we rebounded the ball decent against a good rebounding team and that was a positive for us.”
KU built its biggest advantage at 71-49 following McCullar’s two free throws with 6:27 left, before the Mountaineers responded with six straight points in an effort to make the final score more respectable.
WVU was held to 35 percent shooting (20 for 57), including 8-for-27 shooting in the second half.
Stevenson, who issued a public apology Friday for a key technical foul he was assessed Monday in a loss at Oklahoma State, struggled through a 4-for-19 shooting night and did not make a 3 in five attempts while totaling 12 points.
“I told him to get his head up,” Toussaint said. “He’s a great player. We need him badly. He’s a big part of our team. The last two games, people are telling him he did this or that, but there’s no need to sulk on the past.”
Mitchell’s 15 points were a team-best, while Matthews scored 11. Toussaint started in place of Kedrian Johnson, who was sidelined with a concussion. He had eight points and five assists but made only 2-of-10 shots.
Reserve James Okonkwo was a bright spot in defeat and had a team-best six rebounds.
“Our best rebounder today hasn’t played,” Huggins said. “I promise you he’s going to play a whole lot more. When you tell your bigs for five days you have to get under the screener to stop the roll and they continue to roll for baskets, you’re not paying a whole lot of attention obviously.”
Dick led five KU players in double figures with 16 points. Wilson added 14 points and a game-high 14 rebounds, while Adams also scored 14. McCullar (12) and Harris (11) were also in double figures and helped KU’s starting five score 67 points in the triumph.
McCullar also added eight rebounds, with he and Wilson keying Kansas’ 43-35 edge on the glass.
“Every time you come to West Virginia, you know it’s going to be a physical game,” McCullar said. “Coach had already told us that. Playing here is never easy.”