by Jim Buzzerd
The West Virginia University men’s basketball team had an excellent chance to get their first ever win at Kansas’ Phog Allen Field House last Saturday, only to dribble it away in the final 23 seconds. Kansas had just made the second of two foul shots to take a 76-74 lead over the Mountaineers. WVU had 23 seconds to tie or win the game with a three pointer.
Backup point guard Joe Toussaint inbounded the ball to Erik Stevenson who tapped it back to Toussaint. The Mountaineer guard proceeded to cross the timeline and dribbled to the right side of the court; foul line extended. There, he dribbled to about the 12 second mark when he drove into the lane, was cut off, had the ball knocked away, regained it and passed to Emmitt Mathews, who was cut off and passed the ball back to Toussaint on the baseline.
Toussaint had no shot available and tried to create one as he drove into the lane, but there he was called for traveling with .04 on the clock. It was the Mountaineers 21st turnover of the game. There were some very disturbing points in the final seconds. One was that on Toussiant’s initial move to the basket he appeared to have been fouled. The reality is referees will almost always swallow the whistle in that situation, especially in Allen Field House.
More disturbing was WVU’s strategy with 23 seconds left. Stevenson and Tre Mitchell had good shooting nights going, especially Mitchell who was 8-12 and 3-5 from three, yet there seemed to be no effort to get one of them the ball. It was enough to make one want to throw things.
“We were going to run basically what we ran for Erik [Stevenson] the Auburn game,” head coach Bob Huggins said. “Joe tried to do what he’s supposed to do and he kind of got cut off and couldn’t get turned back around for Erik to come off [Tre Mitchell’s] screen. Erik is going to get a good look coming off, and with Erik coming off, that’s what they’re all focused on, so Tre should’ve been open, but we just couldn’t get it turned back.”
Take that for what it’s worth, but it’s still another game where mistakes cost the Mountaineers a victory. West Virginia got away with 21 turnovers because they forced Kansas into committing 19. Two WVU point guards combined for 11 of the 21 turnovers. Keddie Johnson had eight and Toussaint three, yet both were productive on offense.
How this loss will affect West Virginia’s post season hopes is unclear. A win likely would have punched their ticket. West Virginia may be back on the good side of the NCAA Tournament bubble following Monday night’s clutch 72-69 win at Iowa State. West Virginia led by as many as 11 points in the first half and led by eight at halftime. Another second half collapse was happening when Iowa State assumed a 58-51 lead with 8:44 left in the game.
The Mountaineers battled back strong, displaying what is likely their gutsiest performance of the season. The Johnson-Toussaint combo that combined for 11 turnovers on Saturday had one each on Monday. Whatever blame Toussaint was given for Saturday was redeemed with Monday’s performance. He scored 19 points and was 8-8 from the foul line with most of those made down the stretch.
West Virginia closes out the regular season against Kansas State Saturday at the Coliseum at 2 p.m. on ESPN+.