Levi Phillips, the guy who scored the first points in WVU Coliseum history 50 years ago, was at today’s game to watch West Virginia guard Deuce McBride score 31 points in the Mountaineers’ 91-79 victory over 23rd-ranked Kansas .
McBride played a tremendous all-around game before a nationally televised audience with eight assists, seven rebounds and three steals, narrowly missing a triple-double, which Phillips once accomplished against Virginia Tech in 1974. Levi is one of only four players in WVU history to do so.
McBride was 9-for-9 from the free throw line and made nine of his 16 field goal attempts, including four-of-five from 3.
And McBride did this against college basketball’s reigning defensive player of the year in Kansas’ Marcus Garrett.
“(McBride is) getting healthy again,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, now six victories shy of 900 for his career. “He didn’t play well for a couple of games and he’s got a bad foot and he just wasn’t able to plant. As everybody saw today, his foot is getting better. He was able to plant, which gets him up and helps get the ball up in the air and over the rim.
“He was terrific.”
Taz Sherman also played an outstanding complimentary game with 25 points on nine-of-17 shooting, while Derek Culver just missed another double-double with 19 points and nine rebounds.
“Taz was really, really good, obviously,” Huggins said.
Culver did most of his damage in the first half when he scored 13 points to help 17th-ranked West Virginia build a 10-point halftime lead.
“We never really got Derek going although he did get some big baskets in the beginning and some big baskets at the end,’ Huggins said.
Kansas (12-7, 6-5) needed just two minutes to completely erase West Virginia’s double-digit advantage, but the Mountaineers answered with two Culver free throws and a Sherman layup.
It was a one-point game, 59-58, with 12:01 to go on Ochai Agbaji’s 3, but WVU responded with an Emmitt Matthews Jr. dunk, a McBride jumper and a McBride 3 to make it 68-62 with less than 10 minutes to go.
West Virginia’s lead hovered in the five-to-seven-point range until Matthews drilled a wide-open 3 from the corner with 3:35 left.
That put West Virginia ahead by 10.
Here, it was a matter of the Mountaineers making their free throws. McBride was four-for-four, Sherman hit a pair and Matthews made one of two down the stretch.
Overall, West Virginia was 16-of-19 from the free throw line while shooting a sizzling 11-of-21 from 3-point distance.
“The unsung hero was Emmitt Matthews,” said Huggins of the junior forward who scored 10 points and grabbed five rebounds. “Emmitt defensively was really good, he kept balls alive, he rebounded and he made big shots when we needed big shots. I think Emmitt was outstanding.”
The 3-ball was the difference the first time these two teams met in Lawrence back in December, Kansas making 16 triples against West Virginia in its 79-65 win. Today, the Jayhawks were just 7-of-20 from behind the arc and only 29-of-64 overall from the floor for 45.3%.
“We guarded,” Huggins said. “That’s the first time that I felt good about us being able to sit down and guard. They turned the corner a few times, but not nearly the way they have been. I thought our help was good. I thought our rotations were good and I thought we were active.”
Garrett, one of five Kansas players to reach double figures, finished with a team-high 18 points. Forward David McCormack added 17 points and nine rebounds in his head-to-head matchup against Culver.
Kansas committed 18 turnovers, which led to 26 West Virginia points. The Mountaineers assisted on 18 of their 32 field goals, while Kansas had just 12 assists on its 29 baskets.
Huggins altered his starting lineup today by using Matthews and freshman Jalen Bridges up front with Culver, and McBride and Sherman starting in the backcourt.
He said he did this to try and match Kansas’ impressive length on the wings.
“Their perimeter guys are big,” Huggins said. “I just didn’t feel comfortable with the size of our other two guards to put them in their because I knew Bill (Self) was just going to run them down there on the block and cause problems for us.”
West Virginia (13-5, 6-3) has won six of its last eight at the WVU Coliseum against Kansas and is 6-3 all-time against the Jayhawks in Morgantown.
Local and state health officials permitted 1,500 fans to attend today’s game.
The victory this afternoon for West Virginia was its first in a brutal stretch of six straight games against nationally ranked teams in a span of only 14 days.
The Mountaineers play at 13th-ranked Texas Tech on Tuesday night and then will have No. 9 Oklahoma at the WVU Coliseum next Saturday.
The gauntlet continues with two straight against No. 2 Baylor in a span of only three days and 1,300 miles, and ends the following Saturday against sixth-ranked Texas in Austin.
“Now we’ve got to do this five straight times,” Huggins joked.