Bob Huggins has gone out of his way to say nice things about Kansas State since abruptly leaving six years ago after one season as basketball coach.
He remembers his favorite local restaurants, keeps in touch with old friends associated with the program and claims that he would still be with the Wildcats if not for West Virginia offering him the chance to return to his alma mater. His wife enjoyed life here and so did he.
But none of those pleasant emotions was present for his return to Bramlage Coliseum on Monday. K-State thumped West Virginia 71-61, leaving Huggins angry and frustrated after his first game at the arena since 2007.
“I really like this place. I like the people. The people have been wonderful,” Huggins said. “It’s nice to see people you haven’t seen in a while, but at the end of the day, it’s a business trip. We were supposed to win. We didn’t.”
The game was played in front of a less-than-capacity crowd despite being televised in prime time as part of ESPN’s “Big Monday” lineup — some students decided not to use their tickets — but those who were in attendance witnessed another dominant performance from the No. 13 Wildcats, 21-5 overall and 10-3 in the Big 12. It was their second straight drama-free victory, and it will move them to the top of the conference standings until Kansas and Oklahoma State, both a half-game back, meet Wednesday at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
K-State took care of business from the start against West Virginia, jumping out to an 18-4 lead, taking a 33-20 lead into halftime and leading by as many as 21 in the second half. The Wildcats haven’t lost to an opponent they were favored to beat under coach Bruce Weber, and that didn’t change against the Mountaineers, 13-13 overall and 6-7 in the Big 12. K-State was focused, tough and versatile, receiving key plays from starters as well as the bench.
The Wildcats were also impressive from the free-throw line, which meant a great deal since the officials called 49 fouls. K-State attempted 23 free throws and made 19 of them. It was a strong effort considering the Wildcats entered the game ranked eighth in the Big 12, shooting 67.3 percent from the foul line.
“It was a very hard game to officiate,” Weber said. “I know people get upset. I got upset, but I would not take their job for anything. I thought they handled it pretty well for the most part. We just talked about keeping our poise and staying the course.”
K-State did, with junior guard Will Spradling doing the most damage. Spradling led all scorers with 19 points, tying a career high, and made all seven of his free throws. He is the team’s top free-throw shooter, and getting all those free points gave him a boost elsewhere.
“You see it go through the net and that gives you confidence right there,” Spradling said. “A lot of my shots off the dribble came right from that same spot. I was pretty much shooting free throws the whole night.”
He got plenty of help. Angel Rodriguez scored 11 points and had seven assists, Nino Williams had 13 points, and Thomas Gipson scored 11.
Leading scorer Rodney McGruder was mostly quiet with 10 points, but K-State is proving it has enough balance to win without his best offensive effort.
“That is probably the best thing about our team,” Weber said. “Every game it is somebody else. Angel and Jordan (Henriquez) have had big games, Shane (Southwell) the other night. Rodney had good numbers, not great numbers. Tonight it was Will and Nino stepping up. We have good balance. Five guys in double figures is really positive. I think that is how our team has evolved. We’ve learned that if you take Rodney away, we still have some players who can make plays.”
That wasn’t the case when K-State defeated West Virginia 65-64 last month in Morgantown. Southwell blocked a potential game-winning shot for the Wildcats in that game.
This time, they were obviously the better team.
“We didn’t make a (darn) shot,” Huggins said.
The Wildcats held West Virginia to 17 field goals and took advantage of the Mountaineers’ foul trouble while also capitalizing on two technical fouls. Spradling made four free throws, and K-State retained the ball when Eron Harris got hit with a foul/technical foul combo. And Spradling made two free throws when Huggins picked up a technical for arguing with officials.
Fans were hospitable to Huggins most of the night, choosing not to boo him during pregame warm-ups, but they erupted at the site of a former coach getting all worked up in front of the visiting bench.
K-State made sure his return wasn’t as pleasant as his memories.