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Survive and Advance: Late run gives West Virginia first round win

With under five minutes to play, No. 9 seeded West Virginia trailed No. 8 seeded Kansas State by just one point. Then over a 1:15 span, the Mountaineers would go on an 8-0 run, taking a nine point lead, and sending them to the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament. 

The theme in March is always to just find a way to win and the Mountaineers did just that. Their leading scorer Taz Sherman scored his second lowest point total of the season, scoring only nine points. Sherman would come through when they needed him to most, making a three-pointer to spark the late run, while also hitting a jumper with under two minutes to play, keeping West Virginia in firm control of their lead.  

“I feel like we came out ready to play and then they made a run and then we made our own run and then we locked down defensively towards the end. Made our free throws, made big time shots,” Sherman said. 

Sean McNeil who had struggled as of late, got off to a hot start. McNeil scored nine early points, hitting three three-pointers, with the Mountaineers taking an early 12-10 lead. West Virginia would force an early Kansas State timeout, leading 16-10, after Isaiah Cottrell got a fastbreak slam. 

McNeil’s hot shooting would carry on through the remainder of the first half. McNeil scored 15 of his game-high 21 points in the first half, keeping the Mountaineers in the game while Sherman struggled. 

“It’s been a while since I’ve seen a three go in; at least consistently. It’s definitely refreshing,” McNeil said of his scoring effort. “We came into this game, it’s a new season, so I kind of looked at it that way as well. Just flushing my previous whatever it was where I was struggling and just came out with an open mind, just trying to do whatever I can to help us win.”

Sherman added his struggles allowed other guys on his team to step up. One of those guys was Malik Curry who scored 17 points on the night, including making a three-pointer on West Virginia’s late 8-0 run. Along with Curry and McNeil was Pauly Paulicap who finished with six points and four rebounds, while going 2-for-3 from the free throw line. 

“I just think I just missed shots. That’s really about it. I feel like I was playing pretty fast the first half, I had to slow down. I took a couple bad shots; some Taz shots, but I have to take West Virginia shots,” Sherman said of his offensive performance. 

“Once we got the ball moving and we all got open shots and they can’t guard both of us (McNeil and Sherman). Somebody’s going to have to help off of one of us and then one of us is bound to go off,” Sherman added. “Sean (McNeil) had a great game today, Malik (Curry) had a great game, Pauly (Paulicap) had a great game defensively, offensively. We had some people step up today. I had nine points; people stepped up today on the offensive end.”

The Mountaineers led for the majority of the game, but looked to possibly be squandering another second half lead. Kansas State would cut the Mountaineer lead to two points or less six times in the second half, but West Virginia would never give them the lead, holding on for the six-point win. 

“These are the type of games that us seniors love to play in. The atmosphere was great. If we had lost this game we would have been heading home,” Curry said. “Just playing with my brothers, just being out there with them, just having fun. I feel like Kansas State, they played a good game and we just came out with a [win].”

West Virginia will now have a quick turnaround, as the Mountaineers will play No. 1 seeded Kansas tomorrow at 3 p.m. 

“We’ve had great games with them over the years and I think this might be one of Bill’s best teams,” West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said. 

Photo from WVU Athletics

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