The Kansas State Wildcats pulled off the biggest comeback in school history and defeated the West Virginia Mountaineers 71-69 on Wednesday at Bramlage Coliseum.
West Virginia raced to a 20-3 lead and pulled ahead by as many as 21 early in the second half. K-State and its sputtering offense seemed doomed. But the Wildcats (11-4, 1-2 Big 12) rallied for 50 points after halftime and won in dramatic fashion.
Here are some thoughts on the game:
K-State’s offense might have finally escaped the doldrums
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The Wildcats have been hard to watch on offense this season, especially without Big 12 preseason player of the year Dean Wade in the lineup. But that may change moving forward.
Fans can at least feel cautiously optimistic about K-State’s ability to make shots after the thrilling comeback the team pulled off on this night. As horrific as the Wildcats were scoring three points in the first 11 minutes, they were equally impressive scoring 68 over the final 29 minutes.
That’s an incredible change in fortune, and the Wildcats have their backcourt to thank.
Behind the driving ability of Barry Brown, the hot shooting of Mike McGuirl and some timely playmaking from Kamau Stokes and Xavier Sneed the Wildcats erupted for 50 points in the second half against West Virginia, a team known for its defense.
To put that in perspective, K-State has gone entire games this season without reaching 50 points.
This felt like what was originally expected from this group with Wade and the rest of the roster at full strength.
“It’s still in there,” McGuirl said. “We’re still the same team. We just have to get back to doing what we used to do. Be coachable, listen to coach and execute the game plan. We did that very well tonight, especially in the second half.”
By no means is that sustainable, but it’s a certainly a good omen for a team that was in danger of getting booed out of the building by its own fans.
“It shows that we aren’t just a defensive team that can’t score,” Brown said after scoring a game-high 29 points. “We can still make plays on the offensive end. I’m not going to say our defense wasn’t there, because I thought we played good defense, especially down the stretch. It’s just good to know that we can score the ball.”
How did it happen?
Start with Brown. It’s been an up-and-down season for the senior guard. He mostly hasn’t lived up to the lofty expectations he set for himself coming off a breakthrough junior campgain. But he rediscovered his driving touch on Wednesday and attacked the rim with reckless abandon.
Brown drove straight at West Virginia’s defense the entire second half and made 9 of 14 shots while also getting to the free-throw line 12 times. The result was 29 points, and they came at an ideal time. This was a game the Wildcats could ill afford to lose after dropping their first two conference games.
McGuirl was the perfect sidekick, scoring an unexpected 18 points. This was easily the best game of his sophomore year.
“To win special games like that, crazy games like that, you have to have special performances like that,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “Those two definitely were special.”
Once they started making shots, the basket started to look bigger for their teammates. Stokes made five of 12 shots on the way to 12 points and Sneed drained a key three-pointer from the corner to give the Wildcats their first lead in the closing moments. He even made the shot while being fouled and turned it into a four-point play.
It was an improbable finish.
So much so that Weber told his team that it probably needed to hold West Virginia to 20 points in the second half. Do that, he said, and K-State would have a shot at victory.
Instead, the Wildcats erupted for 50 points and won a shootout.
“It makes no sense,” Weber joked. “To our guys’ credit, they just kept believing and hanging in there.”
Welcome back Mike McGuirl
As noted above, this was a big moment for McGuirl. The sophomore guard has essentially been a no-show for the Wildcats this season, scoring no more than six points in any game.
Much more was expected from him after he delivered huge minutes for K-State in last year’s NCAA Tournament, including a 17-point outing in a first-round victory over Creighton.
Things got so bad for McGuirl that he went scoreless in six minutes last time out against Texas Tech. Weber called him into his office for a heart-to-heart earlier this week and challenged him to play without fear and get back to his old self.
McGuirl clearly listened. He delivered 18 vital points against West Virginia, hitting four three-pointers and scoring a key put back during K-State’s comeback.
He flexed his muscled to celebrate and his confidence soared.
“I got some open looks and so did other people,” McGuirl said. “everyone stepped up and made shots.”
K-State needs to start faster
Here’s another crazy stat: K-State fell behind 17-3 for the second consecutive game.
That obviously can’t continue.
The Wildcats fought back from an early deficit and lost close to Texas Tech in their last outing. Then they rallied from 21 down to beat West Virginia on Wednesday. There is no quit in this team. That’s a positive. But it’s no way to play on a consistent basis.
Weber knows this. He wrote the words “start fast” on the team’s dry-erase board in the locker room before they took the court and emphasized it as much as he possibly could. It didn’t matter. The Mountaineers led 20-3 midway through the first half.
K-State will need to be more competitive early in their next game at Iowa State on Saturday.