Kansas downs Mountaineers
MORGANTOWN – The last team a team showed up in Morgantown with a No. 1-ranking in front of its name, it lost.
History did not repeat itself Monday night.
Kansas, No. 2 in the Associated Press Poll, but No. 1 in the USA Today Coaches Poll, needed only 5:11 to grab a double-digit lead on West Virginia, then spent much of the rest of the way fending off a furious WVU rally, on its way to a 61-56 victory at the Coliseum.
More than seven minutes passed before West Virginia hit its first field goal, after the first eight clanged, on a Deniz Kilicli move inside and it looked like it was going to be more of the same for these sub-.500 Mountaineers who were getting their first taste of the best of the Big 12.
But, they were able to keep the fans into it with a spirited rally, ignited by Aaric Murray, late in the first half. Murray’s steal and slam with 4:45 left led to his scoring seven straight Mountaineers points and WVU cutting into more than half of a deficit that had reached 15.
The Jayhawks (19-1 overall, 7-0 Big 12), who won their 18th straight and were playing just hours after reaching the top spot in the poll, helped West Virginia (9-11, 2-5) stay close in the first half by committing nine turnovers and missing 9 of 19 free throws. West Virginia’s Jabarie Hinds beat the buzzer with a steal and a layup before halftime to make the score 38-30 at that point.
The 6-foot-10 Murray, one of several to bang inside with Kansas 7-footer Jeff Withey, wound up hitting a trio of 3-pointers and scoring a team-best 17 points.
After the Mountaineers got to within two midway through the second half (at 48-46) on a field goal by Juwan Staten, who had 14 points, Kansas stayed ahead with a methodical run that saw its score 13 of the game’s last 23 during the final 10 minutes, mostly at the free-throw line.
Withey scored 15 the Jayhawks, tying Travis Releford for tops on the club. Ben McLemore added 13.