MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia’s Big 12 schedule got off to a sloppy start.
The Mountaineers dropped their first game in the conference on Saturday 82-76 in an overtime thriller against Kansas State. On paper, it had all the trappings of an old-fashioned college hoops slugfest: physical play, solid individual performances, even a last-second buzzer-beater.
On the court, it looked much different. Many of WVU’s common struggles from the last several seasons came to the surface as the Mountaineers gave up a double-digit halftime lead through poor ball security and free throw shooting.
“20 turnovers. Twenty. We’ve had numerous conversations about how we turn the ball over and do some stupid things, and we did some stupid things today which turned the game around,” said WVU coach Bob Huggins.
Over a quarter of Kansas State’s points — 26, to be exact — came from those 20 turnovers as all but two Mountaineers coughed the ball up at least once. WVU was especially careless with the ball after halftime as it recorded 13 of its giveaways in the second half and overtime.
While poor ball security has been a trend for the Mountaineers, Saturday’s performance goes down as an outlier. That was WVU’s 10th game out of 13 with double-digit turnovers. Only twice had they lost the ball more than 15 times this season, and that was their first time doing so in over a month.
“For the most part, it’s really just lack of awareness,” said WVU guard Kedrian Johnson. “Not wanting to take care of the ball, just out there, moving around, not paying attention. Just being careless for the most part.”
Overtime could have been prevented, however, if the Mountaineers had even a little bit more success from the free throw line. They had plenty of chances, drawing 26 fouls throughout the game, but missed 18 of their 38 attempts from the free throw line.
This one is a clear outlier. The Mountaineers entered their Big 12 opener with a 74-percent clip from the charity stripe and hadn’t missed more than eight free throws in a game this season.
“I don’t know how you can consistently miss free throws when they’re asked to make 100 before they leave 100. Make 100, not shoot 100, which obviously they’ve cheated on,” Huggins said. “It catches up with you, man.”
This all adds up to one big thing that Huggins hopes his team improves upon on Monday night in Stillwater.
“Winning. It started at Stony Brook,” Huggins said. “We played Stony Brook and won by…11. We’re supposed to win by 40. That’s not a knock on them, it’s a knock on us. It started there.”