It was better late than never for West Virginia as the Mountaineers made a massive fourth quarter comeback to edge Kansas State at home on Wednesday, 65-56.
The two squads fought hard to control the tempo of the game, but WVU ultimately ramped up the pressure and finished the contest on a 21-0 run to end the game.
The first half was ugly for the Mountaineers. Neither team had a significant offensive showing in the first quarter, but the Wildcats were able to get a lead going into quarter three. By halftime, WVU had made just a quarter of its shots, while Kansas State had made half.
Much of this was to do with Kansas State’s slow tempo play, as it opted to take big chunks of time off the shot clock before beginning its offensive sets.
“We really wasn’t anticipating them just holding for one shot at the end of the shot clock,” said WVU coach Mike Carey. “We knew we had to speed ’em up. I was looking to speed ’em up more in the second — I just hoped we could keep it half way close in the first half and then try to speed them up.”
While the offense struggled as a whole, Carey did get a big contribution early from forward Kari Niblack, who chipped in 15 first half points.
WVU began to push the tempo in the second half as Carey wished, turning up the pressure on defense with a full-court press. This worked real well, as they forced 19 turnovers in the second half — more than two-thirds of K-State’s 29 for the game. Off those turnovers in the second half, WVU nabbed an extra 30 points.
Oddly enough, the Wildcats’ slow play may have went right into WVU’s hand.
“We didn’t even have to defend, we were just standing there until the last five seconds. It was the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen in my life, honestly,” Niblack said. “But I can tell you for sure, I was able to catch my breath. I played 40 minutes today.”
Niblack was actually one of three Mountaineers to play all 40 minutes — along with Kysre Gondrezick and Madisen Smith.
With that extra energy, WVU was able to manufacture its late comeback. Sydney Goodson scored the final basket for Kansas State at the 4:36 mark, putting the Wildcats up by 12 points. From that point. WVU went on a 21-0 run to finally swing the lead to the home team’s favor by nine points.
Niblack and Gondrezick finished the contest both with over 20 points. Niblack led all scorers with 23, while Gondrezick added 22 — including WVU’s last nine points, seven of which came from the charity stripe. Some of those free throws were the result of a pair of technical fouls assessed to KSU coach Jeff Mittie, which earned him an ejection from the game in the final seconds.
Esmery Martinez was also in double figures for WVU with 11 points to go along with eight rebounds.
Kansas State’s Ayoka Lee and Christianna Carr were the only double-digit scorers on their end, with 16 and 15 points respectively.
The victory for WVU moves it to 11-2 on the season and 5-2 in the Big 12, while it pushes the team’s win streak to six straight games. Kansas State falls to 5-5 on the season and 0-3 in the conference after completing its first contest since Dec. 21.
WVU is next scheduled to face Texas Tech on the road at 7 p.m. on Jan. 27.