WVU Press Overcomes K-State
And last night in Bramlage Coliseum when K-State fell, 65-59, to No. 17 West Virginia - the nation's toughest defensive team - that's exactly what Wildcat fans witnessed.
"We told them it was going to be a bar fight and that's exactly how it was," said K-State head coach Bruce Weber after the game. "That's how (West Virginia) plays. They play aggressive. They foul every possession, so you have to play strong and you have to deal with it. I thought we hung in there."
Though the Wildcats couldn't muster up a win, it was a nail-biter until the game's closing minutes. Trailing by just two points at the half, K-State opened the second half with a layup from freshman Malek Harris followed by a 3-point shot by sophomore Jevon Thomas to quickly take the lead.
"I told our guys the key was going to be locking them down, and I thought we did a good job defensively, especially the first half," said Weber. "The second half, we broke down in a little stretch. I thought we were in good shape. We scored, took the lead, then we had some breakdowns. They got a couple putbacks, they hit a three, and that little run was enough to separate the game. We just couldn't catch up."
Overall, last night's aggressive game saw a total of 54 fouls (West Virginia 28, K-State 26) and 45 turnovers (K-State 25, West Virginia 20). Though in the first half K-State shot 77 percent from the free throw line, the team's production from the charity stripe dropped in the second half, and K-State finished the game shooting just 20-of-35 (57.1 percent) - a stat that doesn't sit well with Weber.
"It's a tough league. You've got to play," said Weber, "and obviously, free throws are one thing and turnovers are another thing that have plagued us when we have lost games."
Adding to the Wildcats' woes last night was the fact the team's leading scorer as of recent, senior forward Nino Williams, left the game in the first half with a knee injury.
"Nino only played eight minutes," explained Weber. "He's been our leading scorer, our best player. He's a senior, so obviously that makes a difference, and it put a strain on Malek (Harris)."
Playing at heights he's never been called upon before, Harris finished the game playing a career-high 29 minutes.
"I thought Malek played hard. I thought he battled," continued Weber. "I think sometimes he didn't recognize some things, but to play 20-something minutes against that type of basketball, that's not an easy thing. Hopefully he learned a lot tonight."
Scoring six points, grabbing three rebounds and dishing out one assist, Harris said that last night's game gave him both confidence and added experience he hopes to carry on as this 2014-15 season continues.
"When Nino got hurt, I had to step up," said Harris after the game. "This is something I want to build off of. It's a confidence booster for me that Coach Weber had the confidence to put me in and leave me in like that."
Getting better, growing and learning every time he steps on the court, the young forward doesn't take the opportunity to play against some of the nation's toughest teams for granted.
"I learn every day because of the guys I play with," said Harris. "Playing behind Nino, watching him and (Thomas) Gipson, all those guys teach me a lot, but playing against teams like (West Virginia), Oklahoma, Iowa State, those are great learning experiences. Hopefully next time around when we see West Virginia again, I'll be even better. For me, it's about getting better with my team.
"I play at a high level in practice," continued Harris. "I know (my teammates) have confidence in me, and I have confidence in myself. I don't try to look at myself as a freshman, I just try to go out and play basketball. I know I can do that with this team. I know I can play."
Up next for the Wildcats (12-9, 5-3 Big 12) is a trip down I-70 to Allen Fieldhouse to take on the No. 9/11 ranked Kansas Jayhawks (16-3, 5-1 Big 12) on Saturday afternoon. Set to tip off at 1 p.m., Saturday's game will be aired nationally on ESPN.
"It's disappointing to lose at home, but we can't hang our heads. We have to move forward," said Weber. "We have Kansas at Kansas on Saturday, and, obviously, (the Big 12) doesn't get any easier."
For complete stats, photos, highlights and more from last night's game, please click here.
WOMEN'S BASKETBALL RETURNS HOME TONIGHT
Coming off of back-to-back road games, the K-State women's basketball team (11-7, 1-6 Big 12) returns home tonight to take on Oklahoma State (12-6, 2-5 Big 12) at 7 p.m., in Bramlage Coliseum.
For more information about tonight's game, please click here.