The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

February 9, 2014

Mountaineers can’t overcome productive Jayhawks

MORGANTOWN — A couple of West Virginia’s best players, players who had carried the Mountaineers to a three-game winning streak heading into its crucial Saturday showdown with Big 12 leader in Kansas, had off days and coach Bob Huggins had no one to pick up the pieces while the Jayhawks coach Bill Self ran one productive player after another into what would become an 83-69 KU victory late.

 Juwan Staten once again did his thing for the Mountaineers, who now stand at 14-10, 6-5 in the Big 12, scoring 22 points with four assists and shaking off early turnover problems to play a clean second half and keep WVU close.

 But Eron Harris, coming off his most spectacular game as a Mountaineer leading an upset of No. 21 Oklahoma his last time out, made but 3 of 10 field goals, all consecutive 3-point shots but none after he hit with 11:21 left in the first half, and Terry Henderson did not make a field goal in the entire game and did not even manage to get off a field goal attempt in the second half.

“We just had some guys that didn’t play very well,” Huggins said, “which happens.”

It especially seems to happen against the nation’s No. 8 team in the AP poll and No. 1 in RPI rankings.

Add Harris and Henderson’s troubles to foul woes that kept sending WVU’s big players to the bench and that at one time saw them with five different players having four fouls, Brandon Watkins and Devin Williams eventually fouling out, and life was difficult for WVU.

By the end of the day the teams had combined for 50 fouls and shot 65 free throws. Kansas finished 23-of-34 from the free throw line and WVU 25-of-31.

 The difference was that Self’s bench is rich with players.

“There were a couple starters that obviously didn’t play with the energy they should,” Self said, “and you need your best players playing their best. The reason they start is they’re your best players. But we didn’t have a drop-off at all.”

One player who played as well as you’d expect him to is the Kansas star, Andrew Wiggins, who had 19 points, four rebounds and three assists, while guard Wayne Selden Jr. added 17 points and smooth 7-foot freshman center Joel Embiid had 11 points and 12 rebounds in just 17 minutes.

The depth came from reserves Tarik Black, Rank Mason and Jamari Traylor as Black, who had not shot a free throw all season, made 5-of-7 and scored 11 points, Mason contributed five points and five assists and Traylor made all three of his field goal attempts.

 The depth certainly didn’t surprise Huggins.

“I talked to Joe Dooley this summer. He was Bill’s right-hand guy and took another job,” Huggins said. “‘Let me tell you they are two deep at every position. They are the most talented of any team since I was there.’”

Despite all the problems and being on the road, WVU kept clawing at Kansas and found itself down just 69-65, but saw things turn on what should have been a break for them. Wiggins made the first of two free throws but missed the second.

The problem was that Embiid rebounded the miss and scored on the putback, a play that was followed by a Naadir Tharpe scoring a 3 the net time court and Selden slashing his way to the basket for a layup and stretching the lead to 77-66.

“Their rebounding at the foul line hurt us,” Huggins admitted. “They go 1 for 2 from the foul line and then offensive rebounded at the foul line and score. Those are the things that really hurt you.”

 West Virginia has little time to sulk over this loss as No. 16 Iowa State comes into the Coliseum on Monday night off a spectacular 84-69 victory over TCU on Saturday.

The Cyclones star forward Melvin Ejim went off for a Big 12 record 48 points, hitting 20 of 24 shots from the floor while also collaring 18 rebounds. He hit eight 3s and had six dunks.

Ejim padded his Big 12 scoring lead with a performance that topped the previous conference record of 44 points by Kansas State’s Denis Clemente in 2009 and the Wildcats’ Michael Beasley in 2008. His previous high had been 23 points against Oklahoma last season.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel

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