Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, or so the saying goes. Tuesday, that beholder was West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins.
“I thought it was beautiful,” Huggins said after West Virginia topped K-State 65-59. “I’ve never had a ugly game.”
For the home fans who witnessed the loss to the Mountaineers, the game was anything but beautiful.
“I’ve never played a game like that before. It was kind of like a fight, you know. One punch is being thrown and another punch is being thrown back. It was a fight the whole game.” – Marcus Foster
“That’s just how West Virginia tends to play,” K-State head coach Bruce Weber said. “Huggins has got guys and he’s getting them to play how he wants. He didn’t really like his team last year. (Now) he’s got some guys and he just rotates them and they keep coming at you. If you can deal with it, then you’re in good shape.”
K-State (12-9, 5-3) and West Virginia (17-3, 5-2) combined for 45 total turnovers and 54 fouls. Those numbers shaped the landscape of what was, from the onset, an extremely physical, defensive-laden game.
“I’ve never played a game like that before,” sophomore guard Marcus Foster said. “It was kind of like a fight, you know. One punch is being thrown and another punch is being thrown back. It was a fight the whole game.”
Foster, who led all scorers Tuesday, came on strong in the second half, scoring 12 of his 15 total points. However, it was not enough to overcome West Virginia’s full-court press tactics and, at times, horrendous free-throw shooting on the part of the home team.
K-State jumped out to a early 7-1 lead in the first half Tuesday before West Virginia implemented its patented press.
It was an obstacle that left the Wildcats baffled throughout the duration of the game. K-State was whistled for five-second calls on numerous occasions, as well as a 10-second call in the first half.
“You have to cut,” Weber said. “Some of it’s running the baseline. You try to simulate it in practice and it’s hard. As coaches, we’ve faced it many years, but when you only face it once in your conference and you haven’t gone through it, it’s tough to simulate.”
K-State was forced to play a major stretch of the game without senior forward Nino Williams, who went down in the first half with a knee injury that kept him out for the remainder of the game.
“He only played eight minutes,” Weber said. “He has been our leading scorer, best player and senior leader. It also puts a lot of strain on Malek (Harris). We do not know. He tweaked his knee. We will find out more tomorrow what is really wrong with it. Hopefully it is not a season-ending thing.”
Despite 26 turnovers in the game, the Wildcats were able to keep it within arms length throughout the contest, never trailing West Virginia by more than nine points.
“We threw it back to them so that helped,” Huggins said. “The guy on the other bench over there knows what he is doing. The coaching in this league is incredible. They took us out of all kinds of things that we normally run. They were extremely well prepared. They are a good basketball team.”
Inconsistent shooting at the charity stripe ultimately hurt the home team down the stretch. K-State went from a respectable 10-13 in the first half to hitting 10-22 in the second half. Comparatively, The Mountaineers were also 10-13 in the first half, but went on to only miss five throughout the rest of the game.
In the second half with around 6:10 to go, the Wildcats had cut the West Virginia lead to three, and had the momentum and crowd noise on their side. K-State played solid defense as the crowd noise reached its apex, but everything was cut down in a hurry by a cold-blooded jumper by senior guard Juwan Staten.
“I thought that one possession defensively was as good as we could play, and then Staten hit that corner jumper,” Weber said. “We might have rotated every guy two or three times and kept making plays, but, you know, that’s a dagger. When you jump up and make a tough shot like that, that’s why he’s a good player.”
Things hardly get easier for the Wildcats, as they travel east to take on in-state rival and conference leader No. 9 Kansas in Lawrence on Saturday. Tipoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.