NCAA Basketball

West Virginia hoping for different result vs. Kansas St.

When Bob Huggins returns to Manhattan, Kan., with his No. 12 West Virginia Mountaineers on Saturday, it should feel a little bit like home.

Huggins, who coached at Kansas State for one season (2006-07) before taking the head coaching job at his alma mater, has won three of the last five games as a visitor to Bramlage Coliseum.

While West Virginia (14-2, 3-1 Big 12) has enjoyed recent success in Manhattan, last season probably brings some bad memories. The Mountaineers jumped out to a 20-3 lead in the first half and carried a 36-21 margin into halftime. West Virginia led by 21 points early in the second half, but the Wildcats outscored WVU 50-33 in the second half to escape with a 71-69 victory.

"All we talked about (at halftime) was that they were going to come out and drive it at you," Huggins said in frustration after the game. "That's the only chance they have. They drove it at us, and we cowered up."

It was an early indicator of struggles West Virginia would have all season, finishing 15-21, 4-14 in the Big 12.

Things appear to be vastly different this season. West Virginia is using balanced scoring, with four players averaging between 11.8 and 9.2 points per game. They're shutting down the opposition, currently in second place in the Big 12 in scoring defense (59.3), and they have a scoring margin of nearly 13 points per game.

Kansas State (7-9, 0-4) is off to its worst start since Jack Hartman's first team started 7-9 in 1970-71. The Wildcats have had difficulty all season coming out of the locker room, allowing opponents to break out early or pull away to start the second half.

Against Texas last Saturday, the Cats allowed a 12-0 run to start the second half, breaking open a four-point game at halftime. In K-State's last game, at home Tuesday vs. No. 23 Texas Tech, they fell behind 10-0 before they could score a point.

But if they're looking for inspiration for a turnaround, they can look back to just last year when they recorded their biggest come-from-behind victory in school history.

"It is hard to even explain, to be honest," K-State coach Bruce Weber said after that game. "At the first timeout of the second half, I said, 'Can we at least get something? Let's go.' They scored and then we would score. At least we started scoring some points.

"Our guys did a good job of keeping them off-balance on defense. We ran some half-court, soft press and got some steals. We went into zone a couple possessions because they were scoring the basketball and we did not have answers."

While that quote was from last year, it could have applied easily to almost all of the Cats wins this season. They need to figure out a way to avoid the big hole early.

Kansas State is led by senior Xavier Sneed with 14.6 points per game and junior Cartier Diarra with 12.6. But nobody else is averaging more than 7.1 points per contest. The highly touted freshman class of DaJuan Gordon, Antonio Gordon and Montavious Murphy are averaging just 16.9 points per game combined.

"When you win games, you have to have guys step up and be special," Weber said.

For K-State, there's no time like the present.

--Field Level Media

Updated January 17, 2020

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