Mountaineers make free throws to topple Kansas
Snowy Morgantown. Half-filled pews in the usually fan-choked Coliseum.
And No. 1-ranked Kansas, the winner of 11 straight regular season conference titles, playing West Virginia before a national television audience.
The WVU students traipsed through the snow and got to the game. They made enough noise and celebrated often enough to give the place the feel of a full house as the Mountaineers tripped the Jayhawks, 74-63, to take the early-season lead in the Big 12 Conference race.
A dusty area little used in any West Virginia win for years on years was cleaned and shown off for all to see.
West Virginia made its free throws.
And there were a stunning 47 of those free throws taken, with reserve guard Jaysean Paige going 14-for-17 with his many foul shots.
The Mountaineers made 33 free throws and capsized the Jayhawks even through they had only 19 field goals, going a mundane 19-for-57 from the field. Paige scored 26 points.
Kansas came to Morgantown undefeated in the Big 12 and with only a single loss marring its stellar record.
But though he tried almost desperately to find a usable player combination, Jayhawk coach Bill Self couldn’t reduce the negatives following his team like statistical albatrosses.
Kansas committed 32 personal fouls; it had 22 turnovers and attempted only 49 shots from the field. The Jayhawks were a pedestrian 13-for-21 from the foul line and were outrebounded in falling in Morgantown for the second straight year.
Paige was the on-court leader from his point guard stance, usually generating point spurts that kept the Jayhawks in a constant chasing mode that did not become their various player combinations.
Devin Williams made 9-of-12 free throws in scoring 17 points and claimed 12 rebounds, while guards Jevon Carter and Tarik Phillip added 17 points between them with Phillip going 5-for-7 from the foul line.
Jonathan Holton had eight rebounds to mostly offset his dull shooting performance where he made only one shot.
West Virginia’s halftime lead was 37-29 and could have been more.
Once in front, 43-29, Coach Bob Huggins brought in four players from his bench only to see Kansas quickly reduce that lead to 43-37.
Huggins removed those same players in short order, and the Mountaineers moved along to improved leads to the end.
The Mountaineers had a slender two-rebound edge at 41-39, but rarely let the Jayhawks score with an offensive rebound.
Many of the Kansas turnovers occurred after it had reached the front court while trying to navigate against the never-relenting West Virginia pressure defense.
The West Virginia student body, newly returned to campus for the spring semester, was decibel-heavy throughout and eagerly moved toward the bottom of the seating area as it became evident the Mountaineers had a little-seen free throw formula for winning.
That energetic and Mountaineer-boosting group of thousands cascaded on to the court at the game’s close and eventually covered the entire playing floor, still cheering the demise of the Rock/Chalk Jayhawks.