KANSAS City, Mo.–Esa Ahmad snapped out of a slump and made the go-ahead free throw as No. 2 seeded West Virginia University topped No.8 seeded Kansas State 51-50 on Friday.
The Mountaineers (26-7) overcame a 12-point deficit to advance to the Big 12 Championship on Saturday for the second time in as many years.
Ahmad picked up a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Tarik Phillip tallied 13 points and Elijah Macon grabbed 10 boards.
Wesley Iwundu had 13 points and Kamau Stokes added 10 for the Wildcats (20-13).
WVU looked atrocious in the first half. The Mountaineers committed 12 fouls and shot just 19 percent from the field.
“You can’t let the frustration take over the game,” WVU forward Nathan Adrian said. “You got to stay positive and stay in it. Don’t worry about whatever deficit you have.”
After falling behind 39-27 with 13:26 remaining in the second half, the Mountaineers pulled out all the stops. WVU switched up its defensive scheme to the 1-3-1 zone, which helped stop K-State in the final 10.4 seconds.
“It stops penetration,” Mountaineers head coach Bob Huggins said. “When you got three guys across the foul line you should be able to stop penetration. They were getting a lot of penetration on us and I wanted to make them shoot it from the perimeter.”
WVU forged a 10-0 run and pulled within 39-37 of the Wildcats but Iwundu completed the three-point play to push the lead back out to five with 9:32 to go.
However, the Mountaineers remained persistent and the two teams exchanged shots for the next several minutes.
Phillip poured in a 3-pointer from the corner with 1:45 remaining to tie the game 50-all.
Ahmad got fouled with 20.4 seconds to go and made 1-of-2 from the line to put WVU up 51-50 and their zone defense managed to contain Stokes.
The Mountaineers shot 26.7 percent from the floor, 32.1 percent from beyond the arc and made 10-of-15 from the free throw line.
“I told them at halftime we’ve just got to find ways to score,” Huggins said. “We’ve got to get more shots. We just — our whole thing is by either turning people over or rebounding the ball. We’ve got to get more shots than what our opposition does.”
K-State shot 39.1 percent from the floor, 23.8 percent from beyond the arc and 56.3 percent from the line.
With the victory, Huggins moved into eighth place on the NCAA’s all-time wins list with 817.
WVU advances to play No. 4 seeded Iowa State in the championship game on Saturday at 5 p.m. (CT).
The Wildcats will have to wait for Selection Sunday to see whether their season continues.
” It goes back — we got nine wins — you play 20 games in this league and we got nine wins against the best or second-best, depending on what you look at,” K-State head coach Bruce Weber said. “We’ve beaten Baylor, beaten them twice. They’ve beaten Oregon, Louisville, Michigan State and Xavier, and we beat them twice. We beat West Virginia. West Virginia went to Virginia and won. They’ve been one of the better teams in the country, and I know close doesn’t count in basketball.
“But we played Kansas who people had one or two and we had a shot to beat them at their place. It was a tie score minute left at our place. We had some other close games, you know. But I guess close doesn’t matter. I think we’re a good team. I think you watch us, you see it, if eye test means anything, but I hope for our kids they deserve it.”
Cover Photo Credit: Kelsie LeRose, BGS