By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
The maiden voyage of the Titanic proved to be a pleasure cruise compared to the West Virginia University men’s basketball team’s trip to Manhattan, Kan., to face the Kansas State Wildcats Saturday afternoon.
By the time the last Mountaineer abandoned ship, K-State was sailing off into the sunset with a ridiculously easy 78-56 victory, leaving WVU with a three-game losing streak, the last two by double figures after having not previously lost by double figures all season.
The Mountaineers are now 10-8 and looking a lot like a team that will finish with a sub-.500 record. In Big 12 play, they stand at 2-3, while Kansas State, this year’s Cinderella team in the Big 12, is 14-4 overall and 4-1 in conference play.
The Wildcats beat WVU in every possible fashion, the game going from a rout to an embarrassment.
How else do you put it when you can shoot no better than 32.7 percent for the game, albeit against the team that led the Big 12 in shooting percentage defense, but also managed to turn the ball over 15 times while assisting on just five baskets.
The shooting percentage was the season’s lowest, falling far below the 35.7 they shot in being upset by Virginia Tech, and the five assists were three less than they had in any other game.
By comparison, K-State shot 54.9 percent against a WVU defense that was nearly non-existant at times while recording 22 assists.
In the shadow of this defeat, coach Bob Huggins was almost speechless, which is abnormal, to say the least.
His explanation for what happened?
“They made shots; we didn’t,” he said.
WVU didn’t make its shots from the outside, and it certainly didn’t hit down low, which is becoming an echo reverberating through this season.
“We can’t score close,” said Huggins for the 2,143rd time this year, or close to it. “I just walked by (the K-State players shaking hands at the end of the game), and they are not a lot taller than I am. Our guys are.”
Didn’t matter. There was nothing inside.
With that the case, you must hit outside shots, and while Eron Harris finally put an end to his shooting slump, scoring 21 points on 5-of-12 shooting, but 4-of-8 from 3-point range after going just 1-of-13 in the past two games and Juwan Staten was steady and finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds for a double-double, they were alone.
Terry Henderson, who had come on so strongly, made one late, meaningless field goal for two points while missing 7 of 8 shots.
“He had great shots, not good shots, but great shots and went 1-of-8,” said Huggins. “But you are going to miss them sometimes. You have to rebound. That’s why you have to win some ugly games at times.”
This team doesn’t win ugly games because it isn’t physical enough to turn a game ugly and have it flow in its direction. The ball is being knocked out of its hands more than out of the opponents, Huggins even pointing to a key play in the midst of the Wildcats’ early run to a big lead being when Devin Williams fumbled an offense rebound he had in his hands, lost it and Kansas State turned it into a basket at its end.
With shots not falling and every break going to Kansas State, which is code for Huggins believing the officiating was bad saying “I don’t know what a foul is anymore. I swear to God I don’t,” WVU and Staten tried to force the issue.
That led to the breakout of turnovers.
Staten, who elsewise had a strong day, let the K-State defense fluster him and this man who went into the game with 103 assists and just 29 turnovers, recorded only 3 assists and 7 turnovers in the game.
Meanwhile, there wasn’t much defense as Thomas Gipson and Shane Southwell each scored 20 points and Marcus Foster scored 15, the three of them combining to make 21 of 30 shots, which is 70 percent.
Those three K-State players scored five more baskets than did the entire WVU team combined.
“We knew Foster would make open shots,” Huggins said. “We guarded Gipson a year ago. We didn’t guard him this year. Somebody breaks down all the time. It’s not the same guy, but someone breaks down and it doesn’t happen to them. They have veteran guys who have been through it before.”
West Virginia returns home on Wednesday to face Texas Tech in an 8 p.m. game, a team it beat on the road but that since has established itself as an improving team under coach Tubby Smith with an upset of nationally ranked Baylor.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.