Kansas State sought a big win to keep pace in the Big 12 race and prove to the NCAA selection committee that this is a talented, deserving team. West Virginia was the unfortunate recipient of the quest’s aftermath. The Wildcats took a half game lead for first place in the league at 10-3 (21-5 overall) after limiting the Mountaineers to 20 first half points versus 33 for K-State, maintaining the lead the rest of the game.
West Virginia certainly made it interesting when Deniz Kilicli – the forward from Turkey – went on a short tear with 15 minutes left in the game by banking in shots and simultaneously forcing Jordan Henriquez into foul trouble. On the other end of the court, the Wildcats became uncharacteristically sloppy with lazy turnovers and bad shots. The run pushed WVU to within 43-29 when Will Spradling found Angel Rodriguez for a quick three to expand the lead to 17, and a Rodney McGruder free throw extended the lead to 18. However, a three-point play by Kilicli made brought the Mountaineers back with 15 with 12 minutes left.
WVU pulled within 14 with 9:30 left to play, and with 22 fouls among K-State’s players, they could have had a chance against the Wildcats’ limited rotation of players. And that’s when Kansas State took over. Eron Harris delivered first a forearm to Will Spradling, then shoved him to the ground to receive both a technical and personal foul while fouling out of the game. Spradling nailed all three attempts, and on WVU’s next possession Rodriguez took a steal all the way to the other end, being fouled on his layup to record for a three point play of his own. With a solid lead and the momentum at their back, the Wildcats were able to pull out a 71-61 victory.
K-State has continued shooting lights out from the free throw line. After struggling at the line during the first half of the season, they have shot 70.3% in conference play and hit 19-23 (82.6 percent) tonight. Shane Southwell picked up four fouls in only 10 minutes of action, as did Martavious Irving in 13 minutes, and Henriquez accumulated five fouls while trying to stand his ground against the bigger Kilicli. However, hot-and-cold forward Nino Williams came off the bench on fire to hit six-of-eight shots for 13 points on the night. Will Spradling led all scorers with 19 while also recording four rebounds, two assists, and a steal. His 19 points tied a career high.
One aspect K-State obviously failed to adjust to was the quick whistles of the refs. The team was flagged for several fouls away from the ball, and if statistics are kept on number of fouls away from the ball in a game, this had to be among the top five in NCAA history. K-State was saddled with 28 on the night, while West Virginia had 20 personal fouls and two technicals. The situation forced both coaches to go deep into their benches, with 11 players receiving quality time for West Virginia and 10 for K-State. Little-used Omari Lawrence recorded two points, and K-State shot 50 percent overall while holding West Virginia to 41 – although the difference was 55 percent to 38 until the too-late run from West Virginia when most K-State starters had been sent to the bench late in the game. The Wildcats travel to Austin to take on Texas on Saturday.