MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - The dinner choice this evening for West Virginia’s Esa Ahmad
was lots of fruit and Gatorade. He may want to consider eating fruit and drinking lots of Gatorade for the remainder of his college basketball career after the way he played tonight against No. 2-ranked Kansas.
Ahmad started the night off with an emphatic baseline tomahawk dunk and then continued to throw down dunks in leading the 18th-ranked Mountaineers to a resounding 85-69 victory over Kansas, ranked No. 1 this week in the Coaches’ poll.
“I was just aggressive,” Ahmad said afterward. “I knew I had two bad games. I’ve been in a slump and I just wanted to come out and be aggressive. I’ve been getting some extra shots up and it paid off today.”
“That’s the types of plays he has to make,” added teammate Tarik Phillip
. “When he’s in attack mode he’s very tough to stop because he’s a big guy and he’s usually got smaller guys on him.”
Teammate Elijah Macon
thinks Ahmad going head-to-head against Kansas forward Josh Jackson may have also had something to do with Ahmad’s performance tonight.
“I thing going against him fired Esa up knowing that he’s got a potential top-10 guy going into the league,” he said. “I know it would have fired me up too.”
The win was so decisive - and even somewhat expected considering Kansas is now 1-4 inside the WVU Coliseum since West Virginia joined the Big 12 five years ago - that the Mountaineer Maniacs and the rest of the WVU student section chose to forgo the normal storming of the court to instead sing Country Roads from their seats.
From the outset, Ahmad and his teammates brought the crowd to their feet, particularly the final nine minutes of the game after Kansas briefly retook the lead, 59-58, on a Svi Mykhailiuk 3.
Here, Ahmad came right back with that little curl play around the basket that was so successful all night, scoring once again against Jackson.
Jackson, too, showed his enormous abilities on the offensive end of the floor, running, jumping, shooting and dunking his way to a team-high 22 points before fouling out, but Ahmad clearly got the better of him tonight.
Following Ahmad’s basket to put West Virginia back ahead, 60-59, Macon contributed one of two from the free throw line and then another freshman, West Virginia’s Lamont West
, banged in a big 3 from the corner to make it a five-point game with 7:56 remaining.
A Jackson flying tomahawk reduced the lead to three, 64-61, with 7:11 to go before Ahmad answered once more with a pair of free throws.
Two more Macon free throws extended West Virginia’s lead to seven, 68-61, and yet another Ahmad close one pushed the lead to nine.
A Landen Lucus dunk - his only two points of the game - stopped the West Virginia spurt momentarily.
But Daxter Miles Jr.
, with the shot clock winding down to three, got a nifty shot from the baseline to go down, freshman Sagaba Konate
followed with a thunderous dunk in transition and then Miles hit the dagger from the corner with 1:57 left.
That put West Virginia ahead by 12, and everyone in the building could sense the Kansas players waiving the white flag. Free throws by Tarik Phillip
and Miles preceded a Jevon Carter
3 with 28 seconds remaining to give West Virginia its biggest lead of the game at 19, 85-66.
Twelve seconds later, Frank Mason III concluded the scoring with a meaningless 3.
"I thought our shot selection was good," said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. "We didn't force things. They heard enough about what our problems were. I don't know why you have to go through what we've gone through the last week or so for it to sink in.
"I told them in April we can't turn the ball over and we have to make free throws. And we did both of those things today and played pretty well."
As it did in the prior three victories over Kansas in Morgantown, West Virginia got off more shot attempts than the Jayhawks, more than held its own at the free throw line and also controlled the glass.
West Virginia’s seven-rebound advantage was just the fifth time this season Kansas has been outrebounded by its opposition. It also happened in the Jayhawks’ only other loss at the beginning of the season against Indiana.
Adrian contributed 11 points, five rebounds, two assists, a block and a steal in 29 minutes of action, while Miles Jr. and Phillip added 10 each.
Devonte’ Graham, who burned West Virginia for 27 points in last year’s Big 12 championship game, scored 17 on six of 10 shooting.
Frank Mason III, Kansas’ leading scorer averaging 20.1 points per game heading into tonight’s game, scored 15 but managed just six of 16 shooting.
Overall, Kansas shot 42.4 percent from the floor and just 40 percent from the free throw line (6 of 15).
"To be quite candid, I don't think we've played exceptionally well here, but I think that West Virginia has a good team," said Kansas' Bill Self. "I think if you were going to look at it over time, I think when they're turned up, which they were tonight, I think they're certainly one of the best teams in the country."
The loss brings Kansas closer to the rest of the Big 12 at 18-2, 7-1, while West Virginia puts itself right back into the thick of things at 16-4, 5-3.
“We were pretty desperate because if we lost this one we had no chance at winning the Big 12,” said Adrian. “This was us with our backs against the wall.”
According to a tweet sent out by NCAA March Madness, West Virginia's win against No. 2 Kansas tonight and its victory against top-ranked Baylor 14 days ago is the first time since 2011-12 a team has beaten No. 1 and No. 2 in the same season. Indiana did it that year beating No. 1 Kentucky and No. 2 Ohio State.
It is also the first time Kansas has lost four consecutive games in the same arena since it joined the Big 12 in 1996.
The Mountaineers step outside of conference play one final time during the regular season on Saturday when Texas A&M comes to Morgantown as part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. That game will tip at noon and will be televised nationally on ESPN.