But, in the end, a packed house, a striped-out Coliseum and a hard-fought comeback wasn’t enough to beat the Jayhawks. They defeated the Mountaineers 61-56.
WVU fell to 9-11 on the season and just 2-5 in the Big 12 Conference, as its hopes for postseason play continue to dwindle.
“When they picked us sixth in the preseason in the Big 12, I thought there was no way we’d finish that low,” said WVU head coach Bob Huggins. “I thought our seniors would step up, because our seniors have always stepped up. Obviously, you think your freshmen are going to get better, and the three transfers are really going to add to our program. The reality is, none of that has happened, and we’re 2-5.
“People don’t want to hear that, but that’s gospel truth.”
KU took a 15-point lead within the first 11 minutes of the game, and the Mountaineers struggled to make a comeback for the rest of the contest.
Kansas shot 54.1 percent in the game, and despite missing 16 of its 34 free throws, was able to come away with the victory. Guard Travis Releford and center Jeff Withey finished with 15 points each. Guard Ben McLemore had 13 points.
The Mountaineers were led by center Aaric Murray who finished with 17 points. He scored most of his points from outside the arc, as the KU interior defense was just too tough to manage.
“I feel like they’re beatable, and if we executed our gameplan and did what coach told us to do, we would’ve gotten a win,” Murray said. “We killed ourselves.”
Player of the Game
WVU struggled with foul trouble on the inside, as all the forwards who played in the game but Murray had four fouls with more than four minutes to play.
Outside of Murray, point guard Juwan Staten was the only player to finish in double figures for the Mountaineers. He had 14 points.
WVU was outrebounded by nine, which was a surprise to Huggins. Kansas also turned the ball over 16 times. That led to 18 points for the Mountaineers.
“I don’t know how it’s a good game when you lose,” Huggins said.
WVU, down by just eight at the break despite the poor start, cut the lead all the down to two in the middle of the second half.
West Virginia was able to close the lead in the second half, as Kansas struggled to find the offensive consistency it did in the first half.
Guard Gary Browne hit a jumper to make it 40-35. After a Kansas layup, Murray drained a three and Browne stole a pass and finished with a layup to make it just a two-point game at 42-40 forcing Kansas to call a timeout. Browne had four steals.
The Jayhawks scored out of the timeout, but a drive and layup by Staten made it a two-point contest again. Browne successfully took a charge, and the Mountaineers had a chance to lead or tie the game. A jumper from Staten hit off the rim, though.
Johnson hit a nifty layup on the other end to go back up by four.
A 7-0 run by Kansas made it 55-46, as the Mountaineers’ offense seemed to stall. After a timeout by Huggins in which he spent most of it in the face of forward Deniz Kilicli, the Mountaineers were able to end the scoring drought with a layup from Staten to make it 55-48 with less than seven minutes to play.
“We came out and had a mental lapse, something we tend to do, and they went on a run. It was hard to comeback from that,” Staten said. “I felt we had opportunities. Those big turnovers we forced were pushing us in the right way, and when we made it a two-point game I thought we really had a chance to win.”
In the end, the Mountaineers just weren’t able to keep up on the offensive end. They made just two field goals in the final four minutes.
“Everyday coach says we play how we practice … and he feels we don’t go for a full three hours in practice,” Murray said. “That’s how we’ve been playing games. We don’t play a full 40 minutes. I don’t think we lost focus tonight, but we had too many mistakes.”
Despite the 15-point first-half deficit, the Mountaineers went on a 16-9 run to end the first half to make it a game. West Virginia didn’t score a bucket from the field in the first 7:24 of the game.
In the end, WVU didn’t have a lead outside of the first 57 seconds of the game.
“They made shots and we didn’t,” Huggins said of the first 11 minutes.
WVU shot just 37 percent from the field and hit just four threes – all from post players.
The Mountaineers’ bench outscored Kansas’ 30-to-5.