Sean McNeil’s season-high in scoring led West Virginia on a 17-point comeback over Kansas State on Saturday as the Mountaineers took their first win in Big 12 play, 71-68.
McNeil added 19 of his 26 points in the second half as WVU outscored the Wildcats by 16 after halftime, surmounting a 13-point halftime deficit.
“I’m just glad we got the win,” McNeil said. “Huge comeback win for us.”
Although West Virginia controlled the second half of play, K-State was in the driver’s seat after the opening tip. Within the first few minutes, the Wildcats had built a double-digit lead while the Mountaineers struggled to make shots.
Kansas State’s early lead was the product of strong shooting from the outside. In fact, nine of the Wildcats’ 14 first-half field goals were three-pointers as they sunk 47.4 percent of their shots from beyond the arc.
WVU first started the threaten the lead as they chipped away in the latter part of the first half, largely because of Taz Sherman’s return to the lineup. He led WVU at the break with eight points in the locker room, a positive sign for Bob Huggins as he brought back his leading scorer.
Kedrian Johnson led WVU out of the break, helping the Mountaineers open the second half with an 11-point swing to get within a possession. Johnson, normally a defensive leader, finished with a career-high 11 points. He also led WVU’s defense to hold K-State to a 30-percent shooting rate in the second half.
“We actually tried to guard them,” Huggins said. “You look out there and see those two little guys [Nowell and Pack], and I told them all week, ‘Don’t think these guys can’t play. Don’t think they’re not going to make shots.'”
WVU finally took the lead with nine minutes remaining, getting in front by as many as eight points. Kansas State didn’t quit, though, as the Wildcats got back within a possesion for the final three minutes.
Regardless of his scoring total, two of Johnson’s points weight more than the other nine as he was one of three Mountaineers fouled in the final two minutes of play. He, McNeil and Jalen Bridges all went to the line as the Wildcats attempted to extend the game, with the trio sinking all six of their shots.
McNeil led the WVU offense and added five rebounds and an assist to his stat line. Sherman was the third double-digit scorer for WVU, adding 14 points, two rebounds and an assist.
Gabe Osabuohien, who also made his return to the lineup after missing time in the COVID-19 protocol, added a game-high 11 rebounds. He also forced seven fouls, many of which were charges — a trademark for Osabuohien.
“I really didn’t manage [Taz and Gabe’s] minutes,” Huggins said. “I told them when they got tired, let me know, and we’ll get a sub in for you. I don’t think Gabe really looked winded. He has looked more winded than today. They’ve played enough. They know.”
Nijel Pack led K-State with 20 points, his second-highest total of the season. He was one of four Wildcats in double figures, including Mark Smith (14 points), Ish Massoud (13) and Markquis Nowell (10). Nowell finished with a double-double having dished out 10 assists.
WVU moves to 12-2 overall on the season with the victory while improving to 1-1 in the Big 12. Kansas State falls to 8-6 overall and 0-3 in the league.
The Mountaineers next play on Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET when they face Oklahoma State at the WVU Coliseum.