With 7:38 left, WVU was in prime position to earn a victory that would have helped its early NCAA Tournament resume. The game was tied at 52-52.
But the game started to change as that point, as Kevin Jones picked up his fourth foul and was sent to the bench. As it had in the first half, when Jones was taken out after picking up his second -- and then his third -- personal, Mississippi State took advantage, going on a game-changing run.
It was the Bulldogs’ Arnett Moultrie who profited most with WVU’s senior star out of action. He scored six of MSU’s next 12 points (part of the forward’s 21-point, 13-rebound showing), punctuating it with a tip-in that gave his team a 64-57 lead.
Desperate to find an answer on the defensive end, Huggins called for his team to switch to a 1-3-1 zone -- after it had used a matchup look for much of the night. Neither worked at the right times, as the Bulldogs’ Jalen Steele hit an open 3-pointer against the 1-3-1 to put things out of reach.
“It bothered them. It really slowed them down. But eventually they’re going to figure it out,” WVU coach Bob Huggins told the Mountaineer Sports Network. “Those things, we’re not good enough to overcome. I keep telling them that. It’s not that we can’t win. We can’t not do right and win.”
Player of the Game
It was the story of the game: Mississippi State making shots when it needed to, and West Virginia failing to hit just about anything. The Mountaineers were 2-of-15 from 3-point range (13.3 percent). Jones and fellow senior Truck Bryant combined to go 1-of-12 from beyond the arc.
Add that to the foul trouble issues faced by both Jones and starting point guard Jabarie Hinds (who ultimately fouled out), and the fact that WVU’s typically stout field goal percentage defense was shredded by the Bulldogs, who were 49 percent from the field, and it was far too much for the visitors to overcome.
“We got killed by the ball screen, and you can’t work any harder on the ball screen than what we’ve worked at defending it,” Huggins said. “We were back to standing there watching and not making rotations.”
The late game-sealing run came after the Mountaineers had rallied from a 10-point deficit in the first half. They trailed 25-15 when Steele scored in transition. But WVU’s Deniz Kilicli scored a pair of buckets in the final minute before intermission to get his team back within 34-32 at the break.
It continued into the second half, as Kilicli scored another five quick points -- nine straight for his team, spanning both halves -- and West Virginia held a fleeting 35-34 lead.
It didn’t last though. The Mountaineers stayed close and tied it up at 52-52 when Hinds scored on a backdoor layup. But Mississippi State’s decisive surge immediately followed.
“The truth is, Kevin Jones can’t get in foul trouble. He did,” Huggins said. “Kevin Jones can’t go 0-for-6 from 3. He did. Truck does 5-for-14. I mean, we’re not going to win.”
For West Virginia (4-2), Jones and Kilicli led the way with 14 points each. Jones added nine rebounds, while Kilicli grabbed seven. Bryant and Hinds each scored 10.
The Bulldogs moved to 8-1 on the young season. They were led by Moultrie’s 21 and 13. Guard Dee Bost added 17 points, seven assists, five steals and five rebounds. He only committed one turnover.
WVU doesn’t get a break, as its tough nonconference schedule continues when it travels to Wichita to face Kansas State at a “neutral” site on Thursday.