It was a grueling stretch for Kansas State — with matchups against ranked opponents for seven of eight games in February — but that is the nature of the Big 12 Conference. The wear was evident on Saturday as No. 10 West Virginia outmatched the Wildcats in a 65-43 loss.
K-State was without freshman guard Nijel Pack who was out due to an eye issue.
“Obviously, we were hoping Nijel would be able to play,” head coach Bruce Weber said. “It is something that has been going on for seven days, and it just didn’t get better. … We would never put a young man in jeopardy over the long hull.”
It was the fifth game this season that Pack was out of the line-up. He had scored double digits in seven of his nine games since his return in Waco, Texas, against Baylor.
Despite shooting 28 percent from the floor, the Wildcats only trailed the Mountaineers 26-22 at the half and were led by seven points from freshman forward Davion Bradford.
“I thought we played hard, we guarded the heck out of them in the first half,” Weber said. “We really should have been winning the game.”
West Virginia held a slight advantage by shooting 33 percent from the floor in the first half, led by eight apiece from junior forward Emmitt Matthews Jr. and junior guard Sean McNeil.
West Virginia opened up the game out of the gate in the second half, building a 33-22 lead within the first three minutes of the half that started to create a separation. The half featured a 19-2 run over six minutes. West Virginia shot 50 percent from the floor in this second half.
“We didn’t have very good possessions to start the second half,” Weber said. “When you lose your spirits, you break down on defense a little bit, and we made a few mistakes.”
McNeil and junior guard Derek Culver scored 8 points each in the second half to push the Mountaineers past the Wildcats.
McNeil led West Virginia with 16 points and had plenty of offensive help with 11 points by Culver. Collectively, the Mountaineers shot 42 percent from the field.
Offensively, the second half was riddled with scoring droughts for the Wildcats — K-State reached only 40 points in the final three minutes of the game.
The Mountaineers scored 23 points off 18 turnovers, which was significantly better than the first matchup when the Wildcats turned the ball over 28 times. K-State was able to protect the ball early but was unable to hit shots.
“We were getting stops, senior guard Mike McGuirl said. “We weren’t turning the ball over, not as bad as last time and you do that, and you give yourself a chance…Tonight, shots and free throws didn’t drop. We needed to be better.”
Bradford finished with 11, which led the Wildcats. McGuirl recorded his 28th career double-digit game with ten points.
The Wildcats will host Iowa State on Saturday at 4 p.m. on ESPN+. The home leg of the series had been postponed earlier in the season due to COVID-19. It will be the final game until the Wildcats head to the Big 12 Championship tournament.