While WVU has struggled to score in many games this season, that wasn’t the chief issue in this matchup. Instead, it was KU’s offense that was too much to handle, as guard Ben McLemore had a field day.
The freshman scored 36 points, converting seemingly at will. On the other end of the floor for KU, center Jeff Withey was a force the Mountaineers had no answer for. The Jayhawks’ big man blocked nine shots, as WVU players challenged him time and time again to no avail.
The game was never in doubt in the second half, as Kansas (25-4, 13-3 Big 12) raced out to a lead of 29 points near the midpoint of the period, with McLemore providing the majority of the fireworks.
Player of the Game
9-of-10 free throws
The crowd of 16,300 -- the 196th consecutive sellout at Allen Fieldhouse -- gave McLemore a much-deserved ovation when he left the lineup for the final time with 5:21 to go. The guard was a staggeringly efficient 12-of-15 from the field, making five 3-pointers on the way to a new career-high.
“I watched tape of him. He has some great games and some where he’s not quite as good. But when you make shots, you’re pretty good,” WVU coach Bob Huggins said. “When it doesn’t go in, it’s a little harder for everybody. But I think he certainly has size and athleticism. He shoots the ball [well] ... but we didn’t guard him very well.”
For West Virginia (13-16, 6-10), it was another low-water mark in a season filled with them. It was the team’s fourth-consecutive loss -- its longest such losing streak since 2005. It was also the first time WVU had surrendered more than 87 points in a regulation game since 2006.
The loss ensured the Mountaineers will finish below .500 in the regular season.
“We aren’t good enough to get down by 10, 12, 14 against a team that’s as good as they are and be able to come back,” Huggins said. “We don’t have enough offensive firepower, obviously. We’d like to keep the game within reach, but it’s hard to do that whenever, like they say in tennis, you commit unforced errors.”
It didn’t look like WVU was intimidated by its opponents or the atmosphere inside one of college basketball’s most revered arenas in the early stages. The visitors raced out to a 16-9 lead in the first 7:18 of play and had a chance to go up by nine before momentum seemed to completely change in a single play.
Guard Jabarie Hinds stole an inbounds pass and appeared headed for an easy layup. But KU’s Elijah Johnson raced back down the floor and blocked Hinds’ layup. The Mountaineers recovered the loose ball and Eron Harris drove the lane, but his dunk attempt was swatted by Withey.
“He makes it hard for everybody to score around the basket,” Huggins said of Withey. “He just does. He’s the best shot-blocker in the country.”
On the other end, Travis Releford scored in transition to ignite the Jayhawk fans. Johnson then stole the ball from Hinds in the backcourt, and McLemore was fouled. He made two free throws after a timeout to bring Kansas back within three points with all the momentum.
From there, it was all downhill for the Mountaineers. By halftime, it was a 45-31 game, as McLemore had already poured in 19 of his 36 points.
For West Virginia, freshman Terry Henderson knocked down six 3-pointers on his way to a team-high 20 points. Big man Dominique Rutledge came off the bench to record a double-double with 17 points and 13 rebounds. Harris finished with 11 points, but made only four of his 17 shots from the field.
McLemore’s 36-point night stole the show, but he also notably added seven rebounds and four assists. Withey just missed out on a triple-double, finishing with 14 points, 10 boards and and nine blocks.