KANSAS CITY - West Virginia has made a name for itself with its tenacious, full-court pressing style known as “Press Virginia.”
Tonight, the Mountaineers reached back to their past by using a 1-3-1 defense that John Beilein once made popular to pull out a hard-fought, 51-50 victory over Kansas State in the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship semifinals tonight at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.
“We didn’t do a very good job on our man (defense) and about, I don’t know, three weeks ago we decided to try a little bit of the 1-3-1,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. “I’m not very smart, but I’m smart enough to known when it works keep doing it.”
The way West Virginia (26-7) was shooting the basketball, it had to do something different to change things up.
The Mountaineers shot an abysmal 18.7 percent in the first half (six of 32) by settling for jump shots - mostly from 3, they didn’t force K-State to turn the basketball over, they didn’t attempt a single foul shot and consequently was trailing the Wildcats by nine, 25-16 at the break.
“I told them at halftime we’ve just got to find ways to score,” Huggins said. “We’ve got to get more shots - our whole thing is either turning people over or rebounding the ball. We’ve got to get more shots than what our opponent does.”
“We knew this was a win-or-go-home game, so you can’t worry about the missed shots and just keep going because we needed to pull it out,” said senior forward Nathan Adrian
The first-half hole West Virginia dug itself in became even deeper when a Wesley Iwundu 3 gave the Wildcats a 39-27 lead with 13:26 remaining.
Then finally Elijah Macon
got a jumper to go down, Tarik Phillip
hit a 3 and the Mountaineers made consecutive trips to the free throw line where Phillip and Carter were able to reduce K-State’s lead to four.
The deficit was trimmed to two, 39-37, when Esa Ahmad
hit a driving layup.
The K-State lead swelled back to five, 42-37, and then 44-39, before Ahmad’s 3 from the wing with 6:24 left made it a two-point game, 44-42.
A D.J. Johnson free throw and then a Barry Brown 3 pushed K-State’s lead back to six, but Carter answered with a 3 at the other end and then two Ahmad free throws with 2:18 remaining made it a one-point game, 48-47.
Johnson’s tip-in off a feed from Wesley Iwundu gave the Wildcats a 50-47 lead with 2:07 to go, but that was the final field goal K-State would get.
Phillip answered with his third 3 with 1:45 to go to tie the game, and after three cracks at the basket, Ahmad was finally fouled by Johnson while rebounding Nathan Adrian
’s missed 3 with 19 seconds remaining.
Ahmad made one of two to give the Mountaineers the lead, forcing Kansas State coach Bruce Weber to call timeout with 10 seconds remaining.
Following the timeout, the best look K-State could get at the basket was a desperation, one-handed throw by Kamau Stokes from well beyond the 3-point arc with too little time left on the clock for Dean Wade to try to tip it in.
“They were trying to call screen the two guys who were supposed to guard the ball but Esa came over and helped well, which he was supposed to do, and they couldn’t get it toward the basket so that’s what kind of stopped them,” said Adrian.
“I tried not to foul,” added Ahmad. “I wanted to make it a tough shot, and it was a tough shot for him.”
The score at the end was just the second time WVU led in the game, the other instance coming at 8-7 early in the first half.
This ending was somewhat reminiscent of last year’s dramatic finish against Oklahoma when Buddy Hield’s desperation half-court 3 was waved off, giving West Virginia a 69-67 victory.
Poor shooting was clearly a factor for both teams. In the first half, it was West Virginia inability to make shots and in the second half it was Kansas State who couldn’t find its shooting stroke. K-State shot just 23.8 percent in the second half, and made only four field goals over the remaining 13:26 of the game.
Ahmad scored 12 second-half points and finished with 15 to lead West Virginia, while Phillip contributed 13.
Iwundu scored 13 and Stokes added 10 for the Wildcats, which fall to 20-13 and will now wait to see if yesterday’s quarterfinal round victory over Baylor will be enough to get them into the NCAA Tournament.
The Mountaineers will be making their second consecutive Big 12 Championship game appearance tomorrow night by facing Iowa State, which routed TCU 84-63 in tonight’s first game.
“Everybody who comes here comes here to win,” Huggins said. “We’ve got another opportunity to win, and that’s what they were talking about (in the locker room). Let’s don’t let another opportunity slip away from us.”
The game will tip off at 6 p.m. EST and will be televised nationally on ESPN.