Kansas State hung around and led at various times in the 8 vs. 9 play-in contest to open the Big 12 Tournament, but fell 73-67 to West Virginia Wednesday night at the T-Mobile Center in Kansas City.
The Mountaineers (16-16, 4-14 Big 12) will prepare to play top-seeded Kansas tomorrow. Kansas State (14-17, 6-12) will prepare for an uncertain future after a third straight losing season. Three years removed—to the day—from a Big 12 regular season championship, the Wildcats can only wonder how they so thoroughly squandered what should have been a springboard to the next wave of successful basketball.
Nijel Pack scored 18 points, but made only 5 of 13 shots overall and 3 of 7 from three-point range. Mark Smith scored 17 on 6 of 8 (3-4) shooting. Ismael Massoud looked as if he might be a difference-maker with 13 first-half points. But he failed to score after halftime.
West Virginia allowed K-State to erase a four-point halftime deficit to even the match at 55-all with 9:12 to play. K-State answered a series of mini-runs by the Mountaineers and trailed only 61-60 after a Pack lay-up with 5:57 to play. But West Virginia made two three-pointers and a lay-up on its next three possessions, while K-State came up empty on its end and trailed 69-60 with 3:30 to play. The nine-point lead—the largest of the game—proved too much to overcome.
West Virginia had outscored Big 12 opponents in the second half only four times all season. Against K-State in Kansas City, they did it for a fifth time, outpacing the Cats 35-33 even though the game’s leading scorer, Sean McNeil, sat until late in the half. McNeil finished with 21, and Malik Curry came off the bench to contribute 17 for the Mountaineers.
Another hallmark of the late season: K-State permitted West Virginia to shoot nearly 53 percent from the field, while only making 42 percent of its own shots.
Three in the Key
- The game was K-State’s season in a microcosm. West Virginia jumped to an early lead. K-State regrouped and competed, even holding a lead for over two minutes of game time. But the Cats suffered a scoring drought late, broke down defensively, got outrebounded by 5, got little contribution in the post, and came up short in their attempt a late heroics. Much has been made of the number of close losses by K-State. This one did not really feel all that close. West Virginia missed free throws late but never really looked worried.
- After yet another disappointing season, the pressure will be overwhelming to let Head Coach Bruce Weber go after ten seasons as K-State head coach. The good years have been very good. But that Big 12 title feels so, so much longer than three years ago after the drudgery of the last three seasons.
- K-State has some exciting pieces in Pack, Nowell and Smith. The supporting cast, as we have chronicled, just didn’t do enough to support. Smith’s eligibility is used up. So is Mike McGuirl’s. K-State fans should appreciate their contributions in Manhattan. Both have been hard workers and solid contributors. Fans will have to hope that Pack, Nowell, and the nucleus of top performers will stay on, regardless of AD Gene Taylor’s decision concerning Coach Weber’s future. They will also have to hope that Davion Bradford can get healthy and recapture some of the form and fire he showed in his freshman campaign a year ago, that Selton Miguel will improve his shooting and continue to grow his game, and that newcomers can take up the enormous slack that will be left by the departure of Mark Smith, who was an enormous contributor in his one year for the Wildcats.