MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — A short-handed Kansas State gave West Virginia all they could handle, but the Mountaineers made free throws late, giving West Virginia a 71-68 win on Saturday afternoon.
Due to COVID-19 protocols, Kansas State (8-6, 0-3 Big 12) had only eight eligible players and West Virginia’s (12-2, 1-1 Big 12) hands were full all afternoon.
The Mountaineers trailed by as many as 17 and missed only three free throws in the second half. Jalen Bridges scored his only two points of the game late at the free throw line, and Kansas State could not make a shot as time expired, giving West Virginia the win.
Things started out just about how well they could for Kansas State, as they opened up the game as well as they could have imagined. In the first 4:25, Kansas State raced out to a 15-4 lead. Wildcat guard Markquis Nowell scored six early points including a steal and score in transition, then hit a three-pointer from the right wing and got fouled to put Kansas State up 15-4.
West Virginia continued to not get any offense going and Kansas State took advantage. Kansas State was on a 12-0 run, when Sean McNeil hit a step through jumper from just inside the left corner, but Wildcat forward Ismael Massoud responded right away, hitting a three-pointer from the left corner, putting Kansas State ahead 21-6.
West Virginia was able to get back in the game after a Davion Bradford dunk and technical foul sent McNeil to the line, sinking two free throws. Those free throws propelled West Virginia to go on a 12-6 run, forcing a Kansas State timeout. Taz Sherman had a jumper inside the top of the key, followed bu a reverse layup. Then after an offensive foul on Massoud, Isaiah Cottrell made a step through layup, forcing the timeout and putting West Virginia ahead 27-18.
The Mountaineers continued to chip away at the Kansas State lead heading into the half. After a Nowell missed three-pointer Sherman found a wide open Kobe Johnson, hitting a three-pointer and cutting the Kansas State lead to 33-25. That is as close as West Virginia would get for the remainder of the half as Kansas State’s Mark Smith hit back-to-back three-pointers, giving Kansas State a 40-27 halftime lead.
Both teams started the second half out slow. After both teams traded baskets, a McNeil jumper and Gabe Osabuohien reverse layup forced a Kansas State timeout at the 16:59 mark, with the Wildcats leading 42-33. The West Virginia defense was able force Kansas State to miss six straight shots, with Kedrian Johnson making back-to-back layups, cutting the Kansas State lead to five. A McNeil right corner three-pointer cut the lead to two points, but Kansas State went back ahead by six after two straight baskets.
West Virginia took their first lead of the game after a Johnson steal led to a McNeil layup, followed by a McNeil three-pointer on the next possession, putting West Virginia ahead 53-50. Kansas State quickly tied things up, with a three-pointer of their own with 7:40 left in the game.
Sherman got West Virginia right back into the game, scoring his first points of the half on a three-pointer, then hit another three-pointer after Osabuohien drew a charge, followed by a McNeil jumper outside the right elbow to put West Virginia ahead 61-53.
Kansas State was able to regroup after a timeout, going on a 7-1 run, to cut the West Virginia lead to 62-60 with 3:43 left. Kansas State’s Nijel Pack scored five of those points, with a Selton Miguel layup forcing a West Virginia timeout.
Out of the timeout, a driving Sherman found McNeil who took one dribble to his right and knocked down a three-pointer, putting West Virginia ahead 65-60. After an empty possession by West Virginia, Pack hit another three-pointer for Kansas State, forcing a West Virginia timeout with 2:03 left.
After a 30-second violation on offense for West Virginia, Cottrell blocked a Kansas State shot leading to McNeil getting fouled where he made both of his free throws. West Virginia forced a Kansas State missed three-pointer, but the Mountaineers again could again not get a shot off before the 30 seconds ran out. Nowell came down for the Wildcats and made a layup with 18 seconds remaining.
Kedrian Johnson got fouled for West Virginia and made two free throws of his own, extending the Mountaineer lead to four. Massoud made a three-pointer from the right corner, cutting West Virginia’s lead back to one with 5.7 seconds remaining. Jalen Bridges went to the free throw line for West Virginia. Bridges made both free throws, his first two points of the game, putting West Virginia ahead 71-68 with 4.8 seconds to go. Powell threw up a three-pointer as the buzzer sounded but it was too short, giving the Mountaineers the win.
The Mountaineers shot 50% from the field in the second half, and made 5-of-12 of their three-pointers. West Virginia forced 11 Kansas State turnovers on the afternoon, helping the Mountaineers secure their first Big 12 victory of the year.