KANSAS CITY - For the second straight year, West Virginia advanced to the finals of the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship, and for the second time the Mountaineers came up short, this year losing to Iowa State 80-74.
In 2016, West Virginia reached the finals before falling to Kansas 81-71.
Playing before an overwhelmingly pro-Iowa State crowd that cheered every good play made by the Cyclones, West Virginia (26-8) was unable to slow down Iowa State’s Monte Morris, who scored 17, and Deonte Burton, who contributed 16.
“They’re good. They’ve got a bunch of guys that can handle the ball and a bunch of guys that can shoot the ball,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “Everybody says it’s hard to play against us with one-day’s prep, but I think it’s really hard to prep against them because they shoot the ball so well and they spread you out so much.”
Iowa State won tonight’s game, in part, because it got nearly every loose ball near its basket. The Cyclones also out-rebounded the much bigger and more physical Mountaineers, 33-29, and they got just enough 3-point shooting to hold off another second-half WVU surge.
“You look at the categories we are generally good at and they got 14 second-chance points to our 10 - that’s usually in our favor by a bunch,” Huggins said. “Another area was turnovers - they got 15 and we got 14. We hang our hat on turning people over and rebounding the ball and we got out-rebounded.”
After leading 35-29 at intermission, Iowa State came out firing with back-to-back triples by Burton and Matt Thomas to open up a 10-point lead.
The Cyclone advantage swelled to 12 three different times, the latest coming with 13:14 remaining before the Mountaineers began chipping away.
An Esa Ahmad
layup with nine minutes to go reduced Iowa State’s lead to seven, 60-53, and a Teyvon Myers
driving layup made it a five-point game with 5:48 left.
But Iowa State (23-10) answered with layups by Morris and Solomon Young to push the advantage back to nine, 69-60.
Here, the Cyclones managed to keep it an eight-to-10-point game until Carter’s 3 ahead of the horn made the final margin six.
WVU also hurt itself at the free throw line when it was chasing Iowa State. During one stretch, the Mountaineers missed six consecutive free throws and finished the game converting only eight of 17 for 47.1 percent.
“You can’t go eight-for-17 from the foul line and beat a good team,” Huggins said. “That kind of started it and snowballed it.”
But the Cyclones began chipping away by using dribble drives to the basket. Layups by Nazareth Mitrou-Long, Nick Weiler-Babb, and a transition 3 by Donovan Jackson from the wing eventually tied the game at 16.
Iowa State took its first lead of the game with 5:12 remaining in the half when Darrell Bowie was fouled by Adrian while scoring close to the basket. He converted the free throw to give Cyclones a 23-22 advantage.
From here, Darrell Bowie and Morris took over. Bowie scored 10 and Morris finished the first half on a seven-point flurry, all of them coming with the guard dribbling down the clock before hitting difficult shots. The last Morris basket came from 3 just ahead of the horn to give Iowa State its biggest advantage of the half, 35-29.
Carter finished with 18 to lead the Mountaineers. Miles Jr., Ahmad and Macon contributed 10. Carter and Tarik Phillip
were named to the all-tournament team.
Morris was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
Sunday, West Virginia will learn its seeding and destination for next week’s NCAA Tournament, the Mountaineers’ third straight bid and seventh under Huggins.
“I’m kind of ready to get back into the gym and fix some things,” Huggins said.