Eighth-rated West Virginia got a put-back basket by Taz Sherman and free throws from Deuce McBride and Emmitt Matthews Jr. to hold off upset-minded Iowa State 70-65 here at the WVU Coliseum Friday night.
West Virginia, now 7-1, 1-0, overcame Iowa State’s nine-point lead early in the second half in what turned out to be a root-canal-type game for the Mountaineers in their Big 12 opener.
Iowa State tipped off conference play earlier this week with a home loss to Kansas State, one of four home losses by Big 12 teams so far this year.
The Mountaineers were actually 51 seconds away from making it five as veteran coach Bob Huggins had to use all of his moxie to get the 888th victory of his career.
“We weren’t ready to play,” a subdued Huggins said afterward. “We were down there clowning around in warmups. You think they will take it a little more seriously or turn it around when the game starts … but they played harder than we did, they played more physical than we did and they ran their stuff better than we ran ours.”
There were 16 lead changes and seven ties and neither team shot the ball well down the stretch. West Virginia missed seven of its final eight field goal attempts while Iowa State failed to make a field goal during the final three minutes of play.
Before that, the Cyclones couldn’t miss mainly because of straight-line drives to the basket and penetrate-and-pitch 3s.
Penn State transfer Rasir Bolton scored a game-high 25 points on 9-of-17 shooting. Guard Jalen Coleman-Lands added 11 as the Cyclones shot 49.1% for the game.
Iowa State’s shooting percentage was well above 50% for most of the game.
“We are going to play guys as good or better than (Bolton) for 17 more games in this league,” Huggins said. “We better start doing a better job (defending). It’s alarming how many points in the paint we give up every game. Our points in the paint come from throwing it close to Derek (Culver) and Oscar (Tshiebwe). We don’t drive it to the basket like everybody else drives it to the basket. We don’t drive it and kick it like everybody else does.
“We’ve got guys that just grab it and put their head down and dribble it and don’t go anywhere with it,” Huggins added.
Iowa State’s biggest lead was nine, 43-34, before the Mountaineers eventually began to chip away. WVU, which made just 7-of-15 from the free throw line in the first half, got back into the game by making its free throws in the second half.
Iowa State committed 29 fouls leading to 37 West Virginia free throws while the Cyclones went to the line just nine times, making only six.
WVU made 18-of-22 in the second half, which was the difference in the game.
“We had the right guys at the foul line, obviously,” Huggins said.
From the floor, West Virginia shot just 38.2% as Huggins rotated his backcourt players looking for somebody to get a hot hand to compliment point guard Deuce McBride.
He finally settled on Sherman, who finished with 10 points including the deciding field goal with 51 seconds remaining.
“We shot four layups in the first half that didn’t hit the rim,” Huggins said. “That’s hard to do. It’s hard not to hit the rim on a layup.”
Double-double machine Darek Culver had another one with a team-high 18 points and 12 rebounds, while McBride overcame a slow start to match Culver’s 18.
Tshiebwe contributed 12 points and five rebounds.
Iowa State committed 21 turnovers including a couple of critical ones late in the game after Sherman’s follow-up basket left gave West Virginia its first lead of the second half.
WVU outscored Iowa State 23-9 off of those 21 Cyclone turnovers.
That made up for a 3-of-14 shooting performance from 3. West Virginia also had a 16-4 advantage in second chance points, although the Mountaineers only out-rebounded the Cyclones by six, 38-32.
This loss drops Iowa State to 1-4 overall and 0-2 in Big 12 play.