Just being close, it turns out, isn’t going to be good enough.
As in, for example, how close Kansas State came to pulling off an upset of No. 19 West Virginia in Saturday’s 87-83, double-overtime loss that opened Big 12 play.
“We compete with Top 25 teams, but we’ve gotta find a way to beat one of them,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “It’s gotta move forward at some point.”
A case could be made that K-State, 10-3, with almost an entirely new roster, is moving forward, as would be suggestive of the close loss to the Mountaineers.
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But that was no consolation for the Wildcats after they dropped a game that swung on a handful of plays.
“The league is tough, and you’re going to have games like that go right to the end,” said K-State junior guard Wesley Iwundu. “(Saturday) was that type of game, that type of environment. And we fought, but we didn’t step up in the end and finish.”
K-State took a 34-33 halftime lead on back-to-back baskets by Iwundu and Carlbe Ervin. The Wildcats were 7 of 17 at the free-throw line in the opening half — they finished 28 of 43 — and got nine combined points from leading scorers Iwundu, Justin Edwards and Dean Wade.
But West Virginia wasn’t having an easy time scoring either.
“I’m looking down our bench, and I’m not seeing anybody with any chance, whatsoever, to make a shot,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, who coached at K-State for one season in 2006-07. “I’m looking through our plays and it was just like ‘Nope, that won’t work. That won’t work, either,’ so I just thought let’s try to get the ball to the rim.”
West Virginia, 12-1, adapted well in the second half. Huggins abandoned a man-to-man defense in favor of a 1-3-1 zone that produced better results and went to a ball-screen offense that opened up lanes to the rim for reserve Jaysean Paige, who finished with a game-high 25 points.
“I saw a matchup I thought we could exploit,” Huggins said. “And Jaysean is our best guy at getting the ball to the rim. They were driving everything to the rim, and we did an absolutely horrible job of trying to stay in front of them, so I thought with the zone we could make them take more perimeter shots.”
The Wildcats had answers. Freshman guard Barry Brown had a team-high 20 points and Iwundu’s second half was better. He finished with 16 points and seven rebounds after a four-point, zero-rebound first half.
“(West Virginia) goes to the glass so well and so aggressively,” Weber said. “We needed our guards to come in and help rebound, which I thought they did a better job of in the second half.”
K-State’s D.J. Johnson tied the game at 69-69 on two free throws with 21.1 seconds left in regulation, but Iwundu’s runner at the top of the key bounced off the rim at the buzzer, sending the game to overtime.
A basket by Brown with 1:31 left in overtime tied the game at 75-75, and after a shot-clock violation call on West Virginia was reversed, the Mountaineers’ Jevon Carter missed a jumper with three seconds left, forcing another overtime.
In the deciding overtime, Tarik Phillip hit a floater in the lane that gave West Virginia an 85-83 lead with 1:08. Then Iwundu lost the ball out of bounds on a drive with 4.5 seconds left. Carter made two free throws that sealed the win for the Mountaineers.
In a game in which the referees seemed to be playing catch-up from the start — A shot by K-State’s Johnson was blocked out of bounds in the first half, but the ball was given back to West Virginia, and Iwundu had a shot that seemed like an obvious goaltending go as a no-call at the end of the first half — Weber only took serious exception to the final play for K-State.
Freshman Kamau Stokes added 15 points for K-State, and Wade finished with 13 points, all in the second half.