By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
It ended, really, in the only way it could end, West Virginia University’s stunning 81-71 turnaround victory against Kansas State.
There was Juwan Staten, soaring into the air, nothing near him except his 34th and 35th points of a career-high performance, a thunderous slam dunk sending the crowd of 10,121 into a frenzy and sending Staten off to “High 5” students.
And, believe it or not, darn near every one of those 10,121 fans was still around, signifying a change in West Virginia basketball with its second consecutive Big 12 triumph.
“There were so many games last year when people were leaving early. It seemed like they were leaving at halftime,” Staten said.
Even though WVU was coming off that upset of Baylor on the road, this really wasn’t expected from a team that went to Kansas State on Jan, 18 and suffered miserably while losing, 78-56.
“They kind of embarrassed us at K-State. They were laughing and joking at what happened, and we wanted to pay them back.,” Staten said. “Giving them a taste of their own medicine felt good.”
The experience at K-State was embarrassing, and coach Bob Huggins indicated after the game that he felt it would be different at the Coliseum.
“I thought we were horrible there,” the coach said. “We were dreadful, and if that was the case I thought we were going to play better the next time we saw them.”
In truth, WVU has been a better team than its 13-9 record and 5-4 mark in the Big 12 indicates.
“We’ve been saying we were close,” Staten said. “Now we’re closer than ever.”
What happened in this game was Staten controlled everything as he played 38 of the 40 minutes and, even though K-State had no answer for him, they turned the second half into a really adventuresome experience.
In fact, if you were to say to anyone that you would win a game allowing a team to score seven more field goals than you made (30-23), outshoot you 50.8 percent to 43.4 percent from the floor – including making 61.5 percent of its second-half field goals – and bury you 48-26 in points in the paint, you’d wonder how you ever won the game?
But that’s what happened and even with Staten creating miracle after miracle, which included five assists to go with those 35 points, in the end it took Remi Dibo, who has gotten himself out of Huggins’ doghouse and into the starting lineup, making a key 3 in the last two minutes when the Wildcats had drawn to within a point.
Staten, of course, had a hand in this, being all over K-State guard Will Spradling, who Thomas Gipson was trying to hit with a pass, forcing Gipson to throw the ball away. Instead of scoring and taking the lead, Dibo’s 3 made it a 4-point game.
From there, WVU canned its free throws, especially Staten, who has had a strange week of free-throw shooting.
At Baylor, Staten missed six of seven free throws, almost costing the game that he wound up winning with a last-second reverse layup, and then missed his first two in this game, meaning he had missed eight of nine.
From that point on he somehow reversed whatever was wrong and made 18 of his next 19 free throws.
“Just because they are free doesn’t mean they will go in all the time,” he said after the game. “I try not to put pressure on myself. I just go out and play the game. Today I had the job of getting us what we wanted every time down the court.”
WVU wound up with four players in double figures, Terry Henderson with 13, Eron Harris with 11 and Dibo with 10.
The Mountaineers return to the Coliseum court on at 7 p.m. Wednesday to face Oklahoma.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.