Barry Brown scored 29 points to lead Kansas State back from a 21-point second half deficit, as the Wildcats beat the West Virginia Mountaineers, 71-69, Wednesday night in Bramlage Coliseum. The comeback was the largest in school history, eclipsing a pair of 17-point comebacks.
For about the first eleven minutes of the game, K-State (11-4, 1-2 Big 12) put on the ugliest exhibition of offensive basketball since...well, at least since this past Saturday. The Wildcats made 1 of their first 11 shots from the field, and in the first 10:58 of game time, posted only three points. This performance comes on the heels of K-State’s weekend showdown against Texas Tech, where the ‘Cats failed to score for the first 6:29 and did not make a field goal until the 9:13 mark of the contest.
K-State staged a comeback from a 16-point Saturday that came up just short. Tonight, against a Mountaineer nemesis who had plagued the ‘Cats at home, they finished the job to claim their first Big 12 victory of the season.
West Virginia (8-7, 0-3) led 20-3 before two Barry Brown free throws and a two-handed slam by Austin Trice woke the offense. West Virginia hit 6-14 three-pointers and led 36-21 at the break.
After halftime, Dean Wade gathered the team in a huddle for a pep talk. Its effect must have been delayed, because the Mountaineers scored the first six points of the second half to extend their lead to 21 points, 42-21, with 18:49 to play. Then, shots started falling through the hoop. K-State would outscore West Virginia by an astonishing 50-27 margin the rest of the way to eek out the two-point win.
Brown led the charge, but the supporting cast added giant contributions, as well. Kamau Stokes and Mike McGuirl ignited a 17-0 run with a pair of treys. Brown followed with a conventional three-point play on a drive, then added four more free throws earned off dribble penetration. McGuirl showed off his athleticism with a tip-in over the top of the West Virginia giants, and Barry capped the run with a steal and a dunk.
At that point, the Wildcats were within four, at 42-38. Remarkably, they had shaved 17 points off the West Virginia lead in only 5 minutes and 42 seconds of game time.
The visitors would extend the lead back to 10 at 58-48. But the Cats would not be denied.
Brown scored in the paint again, Xavier Sneed joined in the act with a three, and Mike McGuirl converted a fastbreak lay-up and then hit another three-pointer to make the score 61-58, West Virginia.
The last several minutes of play were shades of the Kentucky game in the 2018 NCAA tournament. James “Beetle” Bolden had left the game with an injury, forcing Coach Bob Huggins to play a lineup of bigs, while K-State went with four guards and, mainly, Levi Stockard and the seldom-used James Love, III.
West Virginia capitalized with easy looks around the rim, but the ‘Eers also turned the ball over and could not stop K-State’s dribble penetration. Time and again K-State drove the lane for lay-ups, fouls and kickouts to open shooters. Tonight, for the first time in a while, the ‘Cats knocked down those shots, to the tune of 9-20 (45%). The biggest outside make of the game came a 2:30, when Sneed caught and shot from the right wing, nailing the shot and getting fouled. He knocked down the free throw to turn a 2-point deficit into a 2-point K-State lead, 68-66.
West Virginia would lead again, 69-68, after Lamont West made a lay-up and converted 1-of--2 free throws on the Mountaineers’ next trip. But they would not score in the last 1:33. K-State would score the game’s final three points via a Brown lay-up and a free throw earned by Sneed after a critical rebound with three seconds remaining.
In addition to Brown’s 29 points, McGuirl scored a career-best 18, including 4-6 shooting from deep. Stokes added 12, and Sneed had 10. It was not all roses, though, as Makol Mawien, coming off his first career double-double on Saturday, was held to no points and 1 rebound, as he fouled out in only 14 minutes of playing time.
West Virginia was led Lamont West, who had 21, and 17 fromDerek Culver, who promises to be a handful for years to come.
K-State was out-rebounded 37-23, but compensated by turning the ball over only six times, against the Mountaineers’ 17 giveaways.
After shooting a putrid 29.17% from the floor in the first half, K-State converted on 18 of 29 second half attempts (62.07%) to average 47.2% (25-53) for the game.
What we Learned
- This team needs some coffee in the locker room. Though its defensive effort has been good to start games, K-State cannot continue to endure 10-minute droughts after the opening tip. They won tonight. But they had to make history to do it.
- The eulogies and epitaphs may have been written too soon. Gallons of digital ink had to be dumped by the backspace keys of reporters tonight, as K-State rewrote the headline of this contest in the most improbable of fashions. This recap was set to be a bitter 50-word dismissal of the Wildcats’ effort and abilities, before Bruce’s guys got after it and rendered the head-start useless. Could this performance resurrect the team and set the season on its proper course?
- Dean’s pep talk may or may not have helped. But it was good to see his engagement with his teammates and his investment in the success of the program. We fans overreact to everything and prematurely declare the sky not just falling, but fallen, far too often. The players had to be as frustrated as everyone else. But credit them for staying the course and finding a way to salvage a win that looked impossible. Now, let’s hope Dean can put on his uniform soon and contribute in more tangible ways soon.
Don’t expect the road to get any easier. K-State is at No. 20 Iowa State Saturday and at No. 23 Oklahoma a week from tonight, before coming home to face TCU and a rematch with Texas Tech.