By Chris Jackson
The third time would not be the charm for West Virginia.
The Jayhawks shot 56 percent from the field and 56 percent from long range as they earned their 11th Big 12 Tournament title in Saturday’s 81-70 victory over the West Virginia Mountaineers at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.
It marked WVU’s third straight loss in the Big 12 Championship, which follows losses to Iowa State in 2017 and Kansas in 2016.
“They shot the lead off the ball,” said WVU redshirt sophomore forward James “Beetle” Bolden. I think coach Huggins told us 72 percent. We shot 40 percent. Whenever it’s that big of a difference, we’re going to come out on the worst end of it.”
Five different Jayhawks scored in double figures. Malik Newman scored 20 points and made six of his eight threes en route to a Big 12 Tournament MVP performance. Devonte’ Graham scored 18 points. Svi Mykhailiuk and Silvio De Sousa scored 16 points. And Lagerald Vick added 10 points.
Everyone got going second half, and that proved to be the difference. WVU led by as many as eight points with 15:12 remaining, but after that, Kansas got into an even bigger rhythm offensively.
Graham hit back-to-back threes to catapult a 17-3 run and put Kansas up 73-66, effectively putting the game away. Newman then hit a three to make it 76-68, and the celebration began with the Jayhawks fans in Kansas City.
Kansas shot 72 percent in the second half, missing only seven of its 25 shots. It also shot 69 percent from three-point range, missing only four of its three attempts.
“It was Mykhailiuk, Newman, they all stepped up and hit pretty good shots,” Bolden said.
Most of Kansas’ roster was hitting shots, and once Graham got going, there was simply nothing WVU could do.
Graham, the Big 12 Player of the Year, struggled in the first half. Besides his six assists, he had just two points, made one of his six shots and missed all three of his threes, following a two-game stretch to begin the tournament that saw him shoto 26 percent and go 1-of-11 beyond the arc.
Then Graham caught fire. He dished out another seven assists in the second half to go alongside a dazzling shooting display that saw him score 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting, with his only miss coming on one of his four three-pointers.
He would finish with 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting (3-of-7 from long range) and a game-high 13 assists.
“He’s their leader, so they really feed off him,” said WVU freshman forward Teddy Allen. “He’s the head of the snake, so if he’s going, they’re all going to be going.”
WVU’s two seniors --- Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles Jr. --- and sophomore forward Sagaba Konate provided much of the scoring load offensively. They combined for 60 of WVU’s 70 points and 22 of its 26 made shots.
Carter tallied 17 points, three threes, nine assists, four rebounds and two steals. Miles scored 25 points on 10 made shots and five three-pointers. Konate had 18 points, five rebounds and three blocks.
None of that would be enough, however, as WVU made eight threes compared to Kansas’ 15 and shot 40 percent to Kansas’ 56 percent.
“They couldn’t miss,” Miles said.
The grieving time lasted very short for WVU as the attention turns to the NCAA Tournament. Selection Sunday is at 6 p.m. ET Sunday, and that’s when the Mountaineers will learn what seed they get.
“Our focus right now is the NCAA Tournament,” Miles said. “We’ve got a job to do.”