After leading by as much as 17 points in the first half, Kansas State men’s basketball (8-6, 0-3) will start out 0-3 in conference play with a blown-lead, 71-68 loss at West Virginia (12-2, 1-1) on Saturday, Jan. 8.
The Wildcats came into the game without freshmen Maximus Edwards and Logan Landers, sophomores Jordan Brooks and Trey Harris, junior Kaosi Ezeagu and super-senior Mike McGuirl because of COVID-19 protocols. K-State was also without head coach Bruce Weber, associate head coach Chris Lowery and assistant coach Shane Southwell.
Southwell served as interim head coach against Texas on Jan. 4, as both Weber and Lowery were out with COVID-19. Assistant coach Jermaine Henderson manned the helm for the Wildcats against the Mountaineers in the other coaches’ absence.
The COVID-19 absentees didn’t seem like an issue early on, however. With a sophomore Selton Miguel free throw with 19:39 left in the first half, K-State would take the lead and start hitting shots.
The eight players that found playing time today combined for nine first-half threes at a 47.4 percent clip, making 14 total shots — 11 of which were assisted on. These combined for a 40-point first half for the team. The Wildcats also held the Mountaineers to only 27 points in the first frame.
“I thought we had a great game plan like we did versus Texas,” super-senior Mark Smith said. “So it’s kind of the same thing happening. We started off real strong, got a lead and then when they started to fight back, we kind of had some mistakes. I think that’s when it started to go backwards.”
The second half was a completely different story for both teams. K-State only hit four three-point shots in the frame — two of which were must-haves in the final two minutes — and shot the long ball at a 26.7 percent clip. The defense flipped as well, as the Mountaineers scored 44 points in the second half. The final score ended at 71-68.
“Tough day anytime you drop a game certainly that you had the potential of winning,” Henderson said.
The Wildcats decided to play small-ball today, which likely led to the high three-point shooting percentage. Starting for K-State were sophomores Selton Miguel, Ish Massoud and Nijel Pack, junior Markquis Nowell and super-senior Mark Smith. Leading the way in scoring was Pack with 20, while three others reached double-figure: Smith (14), Massoud (13) and Nowell (10).
Miguel added five points while struggling with foul trouble, and sophomore Davion Bradford added six points off the bench.
Senior guard Sean McNeil took charge for West Virginia in the second half, finishing with 26 points. K-State held him to seven points in the first half. Joining McNeil in double-digits was senior Taz Sherman (14) and senior Kedrian Johnson (11).
The loss marks the second straight contest where K-State has the lead at the half after a six-point halftime lead against Texas on Jan. 4 turned into a 13-point loss. It’s the second final-second conference loss for the Wildcats with a 71-69 loss to Oklahoma on New Year’s Day.
“We’re still searching for that leadership,” Henderson said. “Sometimes you have one team, one guy on a team, and sometimes you have a group of guys, so here we are in January struggling a little bit on wins and losses in the conference. But we’re very optimistic that if we keep plugging away, keep getting better, try to get ourselves healthy and then stay healthy, we could keep that energy for 40 minutes and then take ownership.”
K-State faces TCU at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 12 at home. The game will air on ESPNU, with a recap on the Collegian after the game.