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Final: West Virginia 66, Kansas State 57

Today’s scoring droughts brought to you by poor shooting and really, really good West Virginia defense.

NCAA Basketball: Kansas State at West Virginia
Mike McGuirl works hard, but he’s no physical match for Derek Culver. Today, nobody was.
Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

K-State brought bricks to the annual rock fight in Morgantown and fell to the Mountaineers by a score of 66-57.

By now, the scoring drought refrain is more than familiar. We’re co-dependent besties, in fact. The Wildcats (9-12, 2-6 Big 12) held No. 11 West Virginia (17-4, 5-3) to 66 points on 42% shooting, but went through prolonged stretches in the offensive wasteland to let the game get away in the second half.

The Cats were competitive from the jump and led 16-15 after a Mike McGuirl jumper went down at the 10:10 mark of the first half. But they would not score again until McGuirl hit a layup with only 4:53 to play before intermission. Fortunately, the defense kept them in the game, and after hitting a few shots and a couple of free throws down the stretch of the period, K-State went to the break down only three, at 30-27.

Early in the second half, two free throws from Xavier Sneed pulled the Wildcats within one point, 30-29. But two missed jump-shots and four consecutive missed free throws prevented the Cats from forging back ahead. After the Mountaineers extended their lead with a Chase Harler three-pointer, the Wildcats finally made some shots to stay within a manageable margin. Then they got stuck at 35 points for just over four minutes. During that time, West Virginia staged a 9-0 run to build its biggest lead of the game at 49-35.

K-State battled back to within eight on three occasions with less than four minutes to play, but could crawl no closer.

The game was as aggressive and physical as you would expect a contest between these two teams to be, with a hard West Virginia foul on a Mawien fast break attempt ruled a common foul, and two fouls against K-State called flagrant. The first of those was against Xavier Sneed, who was undercut by West Virginia guard Chase Harler on a rebound attempt and appeared to inadvertently wrap up Harler’s head to avoid falling on his own. The other was a grab by David Sloan off the ball when the Cats were trying to conserve clock. Neither was at all egregious. One of the two may not even have been the correct call. (Didn’t keep the referees from sprinting in all day, as if the Cats have a reputation for brawling, or something.)

After making 9-of-18 three point attempts against West Virginia in Manhattan, K-State started this game only 1-of-14 behind the arc, with the only make belonging to freshman forward Montavious Murphy. Cartier Diarra connected on two rainbows late to make the last few minutes at least marginally interesting. But for the game, the Wildcats were a frigid 3-17 (17.6%) from deep. They connected on only 36.7% (18-49) overall against the physical, in-your-face defense of the ‘Eers.

The three-point differential goes a long way to explaining the outcome. West Virginia made 6-19 from outside and had six more field goals overall. Rebounds, turnovers and fouls were relatively even, and each team made 18 free throws. The Cats continued to the recent trend of hitting offensive glass, grabbing 10 rebounds on that end of the floor. The longer, more physical Mountaineers had 13 offensive boards.

Sloan led the Wildcats in scoring with 13 points. Sneed scored 11, but he was an abyssmal 2-13 overall and 0-7 from outside the arc on the day. No other Cat reached double figures. DaJuan Gordon led the team in rebounds, with eight.

Derek Culver, who was mostly quiet in the teams’ first meeting, flashed skill and athleticism that K-State simply could not match, scoring 19 and snagging 14 rebounds. He was the only Mountaineer to score in double-digits.

Three in the Key

  1. K-State played unquestionably its best game of the season and ambushed West Virginia two weeks ago to the tune of an 84-68 blowout that really wasn’t as close as the score suggests. K-State was the better team that night for two prolonged stretches of the game. After that, the Mountaineers took out their frustrations on a Texas squad (the same squad that beat K-State in their first meeting, incidentally) who arrived a little too passive and got shelled by 38 points (97-59). That’s how narrow the margin can be between success and humiliation. K-State did not get humiliated today, but the Cats will lament missed opportunities, like missing free throws that could have given them an early second-half lead. Little victories and little losses cement the final outcome. K-State suffered just enough breakdowns today to fall short.
  2. Antonio Gordon would have helped today. Nobody can know whether the freshman forward could have turned the outcome. But against Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe, K-State had difficulty holding its ground underneath the bucket at times. The long and aggressive A-Go might have helped with that and could certainly have provided some energy in the paint. He will be back Monday night against Baylor. Good thing. That game will require all hands on deck.
  3. While we’re on the topic, it’s a rotten draw to have Big Monday after any Saturday road trip. But there could be no worse draw than to do it after flying all the way to West Virginia, getting beat up old Big East style for two and a half hours, and then having the country’s No. 1 squad ride into town on a 17-game (yes, I’m preemptively awarding them the win over TCU, where they lead 35-24 at the half) win streak. But you can only play the games on your schedule. K-State has really turned up the aggression over the past three games. Maybe their style and a raucous crowd will be enough to pull the upset. Wouldn’t be the first time the team rose up and surprised us. Baylor is really, really good, though. They overcame the usual difficulties to win in Lawrence for the first time in their history, after all.

Go Cats. And go Chiefs.