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West Virginia survives tough semifinal vs. Kansas State, reaches Big 12 title game

By
David Smale, The Sports Xchange

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The stats said West Virginia should have lost, but the final score didn't.

The Mountaineers escaped with a 51-50 victory over Kansas State in the semifinals of the Big 12 tourament on Friday night.

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Coach Bob Huggins had a simple explanation.

"Coaching," he deadpanned. "I don't know. I told 'em at halftime we've just got to find ways to score. We've got to get more shots. Our whole thing is either turning people over or rebounding the ball. We've got to get more shots than what our opposition does."

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The Mountaineers shot just 26.7 percent from the field for the game. Their pressure defense forced a season-low 11 turnovers and they led for only 1:29 in the game.

But rebounding, especially on the offensive end, may have been the key. The Mountaineers outrebounded the Wildcats 44-35, including 16-5 on the offensive glass. That resulted in a 12-4 edge in second-chance points.

"The second-chance points down the stretch (and the fact that) they out-toughed us for some rebounds, and that probably was the difference in the game," Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said.

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Kansas State (20-13) led by nine points at halftime and stretched the advantage to 12 early in the second half. But West Virginia ripped off a 10-0 run to pull within 39-37 with 9:52 left, and the game was close the rest of the way. The largest lead the remainder of the game was just five points.

When Tarik Phillip hit a 3-pointer from the corner with 1:40 remaining, the score was tied for the first time since early in the first half.

Nathan Adrian missed an open 3-pointer with 25 seconds left, but Esa Ahmad got the rebound. He was fouled by D.J. Johnson, and he hit the second of two free throws to give West Virginia its final lead.

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On its final possession, Kansas State called a timeout with 10 seconds left. The Wildcats could not get off a decent shot, and Kamau Stokes' 3-pointer missed at the buzzer.

"West Virginia played good defense at the end of the game," Stokes said. "We didn't make the play and credit them for just playing defense."

Ahmad finished with a team-high 15 points for the Mountaineers (26-7), who will play Iowa State in the title game on Saturday. West Virginia secured its second consecutive trip to the Big 12 final. The Mountaineers lost to Kansas 81-71 in the final last season.

Phillip chipped in 13 points, all in the second half, for West Virginia. Ahmad and Elijah Macon each pulled down 10 rebounds.

Kansas State was led by Wesley Iwundu with 13 points. Stokes had 10 for the Wildcats, who now must wait for the NCAA Tournament pairings to be announced Sunday.

Huggins doesn't think Kansas State should have to worry.

"Kansas State is pretty good," he said. "Let's don't take anything away from them. They played really well today."

NOTES:

-- This was the first matchup at the Big 12 Championship between the two schools.

-- West Virginia has won 25 games for the third straight season. Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins has won at least 25 games in 17 different seasons.

-- West Virginia was in the semifinals for the second straight year. Kansas State was in its first semifinal since 2013, when the Wildcats defeated Oklahoma State 68-57 before falling to Kansas in the final.

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