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WVU basketball: Mountaineers lose by 22 at Kansas State

MANHATTAN, Kan. -- One of the final few things West Virginia could hold onto in a season that has been slowly slipping away is that the Mountaineers hadn't been blown out. Not by one of the ranked teams. Not on the road. Not even when facing a laughable deficit.

But that got away from WVU on Saturday in a 78-56 loss to Kansas State at the Bramlage Coliseum. The Mountaineers matched the largest deficit in a game, finished with its lowest point total and shooting percentage and lost by the largest margin of the season.

It's the third straight loss and the sixth in the 11 games since putting a scare into then-No. 10 Wisconsin in the Cancun Challenge Nov. 27, an effort that generated bit of optimism for a program that finished 13-19 last season.

"It seems like last year is continuing right now to this point in our lives," sophomore guard Eron Harris said. "It's very frustrating personally. I'm just in a state where I don't know what to do."

The Mountaineers (10-8, 2-3 Big 12) trailed by 13 points at the half before a sellout crowd of 12,528, the largest crowd they've played in front of this season. They'd trailed by 14 points at halftime twice, including Monday's loss to Texas. The Wildcats (14-4, 4-1) led by 25 points a few times in the second half, matching the advantage Missouri had in a win against WVU on Dec. 5, a game that saw the Mountaineers rally and get as close as eight points late.

Kansas State scored the first five points of the second half and let WVU get as close as 15 points before scoring the next 10. A 3-pointer from Shane Southwell was the ninth of the game for the Wildcats and gave them a 55-30 lead while the Mountaineers had only eight baskets of either variety.

The Mountaineers didn't trail by more than eight points in the seven games between the losses to Missouri and Texas, but trailed the Longhorns by at least 10 points for the final 22:11 Monday and trailed the Wildcats by at least 11 points for the final 23:21 Saturday.

"I feel like that game got away from us pretty quick," junior point guard Juwan Staten said. "They came out and hit us first and we had a really hard time coming back from it."

Southwell and Thomas Gipson both scored 20 points. Southwell made 4 of 8 3-point shots and Gipson made 9 of his 11 shots from the floor. Leading scorer Marcus Foster played three minutes and scored three points in a foul-troubled first half, but the freshman scored 12 points in the second half to top his average by two points.

Kansas State came into the game with the Big 12's worst field-goal and 3-point shooting percentages and the second-worst scoring offense. They shot 54.9 percent from the floor -- the best by Kansas State and by a WVU opponent this season -- and made 9 of 21 3-point attempts. The Wildcats had assists on 22 of 28 baskets, including eight from backup guard Jevon Thomas.

"They came down and they got shots inside the last 10 seconds," WVU coach Bob Huggins said. "Everyone wants to talk about their defense -- and their defense is good, don't get me wrong -- but offensively, they make you work. The pass and cut and pass and cut and usually end up with a pretty good shot at the end."

Huggins, now 1-4 against Kansas State and 1-3 since he coached here in the 2006-07 season, said the Wildcats pass better than they play defense. That defense, which leads the Big 12 in scoring and 3-point percentage and is second in field-goal percentage, bothered a WVU team that continues to misfire.

The Mountaineers shot 32.7 percent, the worst since a home loss to Oklahoma State in February, and missed 11 of 15 3-point attempts after shooting 37.7 percent and missing 21 of 25 3-point shots against Texas. They made fewer than six 3s just three times in the first 16 games, but have now made only four in both of the past two games.

WVU also had 15 turnovers to just five assists.

"Everyone knows that Kansas State is a great help defense team," Staten said. "They help early and they help on every play. The only way to really get good shots against them is to move the ball and move bodies. Sometimes we'd move the ball and people weren't cutting hard or weren't cutting to score. If you're not giving the passer a good look cutting like that, it's pointless to do it."

Harris led WVU with 21 points and made 4 of 8 3-point attempts. He's only the second player to make more than three 3s in a game against the Wildcats this season. Staten had 16 points and 11 rebounds, but also a career-high seven turnovers. The rest of WVU's starting lineup contributed 13 points -- nine from Devin Williams -- on 4-for-18 shooting. Then again, the bench got six points -- all from Gary Browne -- on 2-for-9 shooting.  

"I think it's less about the other team than it is us," said Harris, who was 5-for-12 overall. "If we can't make out shots, it's our fault. We're just not that good at making shots."

The Mountaineers didn't start as poorly as they would play. Back-to-back 3s from Harris, who was 1-for-13 the past two games, followed a putback basket from Williams. WVU had made 3 of 5 shots and led 8-3, which ended up being its largest lead. The Mountaineers then shot 3-for-15 the rest of the half, went 5:50 between baskets and had just two in the final 12:51.

The Wildcats, who subscribe to a deliberate style that keeps possessions to a minimum to compliment the defense, were unstoppable. They played fast. They made 3s. They dunked. They scored nine straight points in a 16-6 run that saw the Mountaineers go nine minutes with just one basket. It was a 30-19 game when WVU committed a turnover while running a play out of a timeout for the second time in the half.

Southwell hit a 3 and then answered Staten's two free throws by lobbing pass to Wesley Iwundu for a dunk and a 35-21 lead, largest of the half.

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymailwv.com or 304-319-1142. Is blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/wvu.


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