WVU basketball: Mountaineers scale Kansas, 92-86
MORGANTOWN – As big as the events from Saturday afternoon turned out to be for West Virginia, Eron Harris had bigger plans for the evening.
"I'm going to watch this game 50 times," the sophomore guard said. "I want to see exactly what we did. What we did here was what we're going to have to do to go far in the tournament."
The Mountaineers did things to No. 8 Kansas that no other team has done this season and would lead by as many as 25 points in the second half before a frantic rally got the Jayhawks alarmingly close in the final minutes.
Yet WVU never completely lost control, earned its coach a $25,000 bonus, probably ended whatever debate might have existed in eight days about the NIT and clinched the sixth seed and a bye in next week's Big 12 Tournament with a 92-86 win before a crowd of 14,038 at the Coliseum.
The Mountaineers (17-14, 9-9 Big 12) shot the highest percentage and built the biggest lead against Kansas this season and forced coach Bill Self to call all of his timeouts in the first 24 minutes of the game. Harris, Juwan Staten and Devin Williams each scored at least 20 points, something that hadn't happened at WVU in two years, and the Mountaineers survived 41 points from Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins.
WVU entered the day tied with Baylor and Oklahoma State in the conference standings. Baylor won and Oklahoma State lost, and the win against Kansas broke the tie with Baylor for sixth place.
The Mountaineers will be off Wednesday for the first round of the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City and play third-seeded Texas at 9:30 p.m. Thursday. WVU is 0-2 against the Longhorns this season with the losses coming by 11 and 17 points.
"How many games can we win like this? How consistent can we be? That's the question," Harris said. "Everyone's seen how good we can be. We beat the best team in the conference just now and basically we were blowing them out the whole game. That shows right there to the country West Virginia has great potential. We just have to show them how consistent we can be."
Williams scored a career-high 22 points on 8-for-10 shooting and added 13 rebounds for his third consecutive double-double. He changed the game early with nine points – he was averaging 8.3 – in the opening seven minutes. Williams made a few jumpers, but was one of a few Mountaineers who thrived inside in the absence of Kansas' 7-foot center Joel Embiid.
Harris made five 3-pointers and scored 28 points, but also drove to the basket againm, and Staten added 24 points, nine assists and five rebounds and made 14 of 20 free throw attempts.
"That was a big part of the game plan," Staten said. "We knew Embiid wasn't going to be in the game and we definitely needed to attack the rim. When he comes out of the game or when he's not playing, there's definitely a big drop off in the paint as far as there being no rim protector. It was a part of the game plan and it allowed us to get in the paint a little easier and it allowed us to finish a little easier."
The Mountaineers had only nine bench points, though they were meaningful. Gary Browne was 1-for-6 from the floor, but made both of his free-throw attempts and a critical 3-pointer as part of a 5-0 run with Wiggins on the bench with foul trouble to give WVU an 83-68 lead. Terry Henderson returned from a four-game absence and had four points and two steals. The Mountaineers outscored Kansas by 13 points in the 15 minutes Henderson played.
"He lifted our spirits a little bit," Staten said. "We got down the last few games without him, and he's such a big part of the offense and a big part of what we do. Having him check into the game lifted the crowd's spirit and helped us play a little bit better than we could have played."
WVU actually outrebounded Kansas 37-31. The Jayhawks are No. 11 nationally in rebounding margin and had only been outrebounded four other times this season. WVU's 52.9 percent shooting and the 64-39 lead in the second half were both highs against Kansas (23-8, 14-4).
"They were terrific and we didn't guard at all," Self said. "We've gone through stretches where we haven't guarded so well, but I think that was as poor as it's been. But give credit to them. They were a lot better offensively than we were defensively."
Wiggins made 12 of 18 shots and 15 of 19 free throw attempts and was the first opponent to score 40 or more against WVU since Seton Hall's Jeremy Hazell scored 41 in 2009. The last opponent to score 40 or more at the Coliseum was Ohio's Gary Trent, who also had 41 in 1993.
Wiggins added eight rebounds, four blocked shots and five steals.
"That's as well as he's played all year long," Self said. "There's nobody in America who'd have a better game than Andrew did today."
He didn't have much help, though. Perry Ellis had 14 points, but just three in the second half, and Frank Mason added 10 off the bench. Kansas was also 10-for-11 at the free-throw line in the first half and just 12-for-21 in the second half.
The Mountaineers blitzed the Jayhawks in the first half, but never put together a long and beleaguering run. They didn't score more than six unanswered points and did nothing more special than a 9-2 run early to take an 18-11 lead.
Instead, it was just consistent, high-level basketball. WVU shot 63 percent in the first half, its second-best shooting percentage in a half and just the fourth half at or above 60 percent in conference play. The lead was 50-38 and the offense averaged 1.47 points per possession. Williams was 7-for-7 and thinned the Kansas bench by putting Embiid's replacements in foul trouble.
WVU missed its first three shots of the second half, but Kansas never scored and paid for that when Williams scored inside and the Mountaineers followed a miss with five straight made shots. Harris and Remi Dibo both made 3s in that stretch and Self needed two timeouts, including his last one with 17:25 remaining his team down by 25 points.
"I wanted to make sure that we continued to play," said WVU coach Bob Huggins, who won for the first time in eight games against Kansas and triggered a generous clause in his contract for doing so. "We're out there jumping around and doing whatever it is they do, but my thing was, 'Man, we've got 17 minutes to go. Let's play. We've still got to guard, we've still got to rebound. We don't need to take rushed shots, but we don't want to lose aggression either.'"
Kansas cut the lead to 16, but Williams made free two throws and Staten and Henderson hit layups. The Jayhawks then started a serious charge with a 13-2 run and seven points from Wiggins, including a 3 that made it 78-68. Wiggins then picked up his fourth foul with 5:54 to go and sat for the first time. Browne made two free throws and then a 3 to go ahead by 15 and pull Wiggins off the bench. Harris followed a turnover with a layup and the Mountaineers were ahead by 17.
Wiggins made a 3, stole the inbound and dunked, and then stole the ball from Staten along the sideline, but missed a 3. Kansas still scored 12 unanswered points with Wiggins getting seven and Mason making a 3 to cut WVU's lead to 85-80 with 1:25 left to play. Staten made 3 of 4 free-throw attempts before Mason made a 3, but Harris drew Wiggins' fifth foul with 17 seconds to go and went 4-for-4 at the line to finish the game.