A string of second-half turnovers by No. 14 West Virginia gave third-ranked Kansas enough of a chance to take the win in Morgantown, 58-49.
After holding the lead from the 14-minute mark in the first half, the Mountaineers turned the ball over 6 times in the final six minutes of the game, allowing the Jayhawks to go on a 13-1 run for the victory.
The first half of the contest played to the strengths of West Virginia, who aimed to turn the game into a “track meet” while preventing Jayhawk attacks inside. Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike were held to 4 and 2 points in the half respectively.
Much of West Virginia’s offense was generated by turnovers, as the Mountaineers forced 8 first half turnovers from the Jayhawks and turned those into 13 points. The true motor behind WVU’s attack, though, was Oscar Tshiebwe. While he didn’t quite reprise his first half performance in Lawrence, Tshiebwe led all scorers in the period with 12 points, while adding 5 rebounds and a steal.
Due to foul trouble, he wouldn’t get quite as much of an opportunity to keep that going as he finished with 14 points and 9 rebounds.
Kansas seemed to tighten their defense up in the second half while West Virginia seemed to simultaneously lose their offensive footing. The Mountaineers made just 27.6 percent of their second-half field goal attempts, a stark contrast to Kansas’s 47.6-percent clip.
While Azubuike never found his offensive groove, he was a difficult defender for the Mountaineers to handle — especially in the second half. He finished with a pair of blocks while also having a hand in West Virginia’s 10 missed layups.
“He gives them a defensive force in there that makes it tough to score driving to the basket, and offensively, he’s a brute,” said WVU coach Bob Huggins.”
Conversely, Dotson found his stroke in the second and finished with 15.
Unfortunately for West Virginia, Kansas’s offensive push coincided with a massive Mountaineer drought. While they gave up 6 turnovers in their final 13 possessions, they missed 11 of their last 12 field goal attempts, while also struggling to grab their rebounds. Five of those turnovers would be steals from Kansas guard Marcus Garrett.
“[Kansas] got the loose balls. Every ball that got tipped in the air on a rebound, they got. They beat us to the ball,” Huggins said. “We got 60 shots and made 19. We had what, 76 last game? It’s not like we’re not getting shots. We’re not making any.”
Besides Tshiebwe, Jordan McCabe was the only Mountaineer to find double figures with 10 points. His night was otherwise marred, however, by an assist-less performance with 4 turnovers.
Even beyond McCabe, West Virginia’s guards struggled with ball security. Jermaine Haley would also give up 4 turnovers, while Miles McBride gave up 3 of his own. In total, the Mountaineers finished with 19.
After the game, Bob Huggins was understandably frustrated with both the outcome and his team’s performance.
“They’re nice guys, they’re good guys. I don’t know what to say, whether it’s we’re not mature enough, we’re not experienced enough, we aren’t tough enough to grind out games like this,” Huggins said. “We’re playing against a very experienced team. We have an average of 1.2 years of experience on our team, which is a whole lot lower when you take into account that Logan [Routt] doesn’t really play. Chase [Harler] doesn’t play a whole lot of minutes. Jermaine doesn’t play a whole lot of minutes, so it’s probably less than that, really. That’s a fact. It’s not an excuse, it’s a fact.”
There’s no rest for the Mountaineers. They hit the road to next face No. 1 Baylor in Waco on Saturday, a contest that tips off Saturday at 4 p.m. on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.