The Mountaineers, with their NCAA hopes rapidly fading, again struggled to defend the paint and close out on three-pointers as the No. 15 Cyclones avenged a 25-point road loss at the Coliseum with a dominant 83-66 win Wednesday in Ames.
Iowa State, held to just four threes in 23 attempts in a 102-77 loss in the first series meeting, hit nine of 20 in this game, led by five from Naz Long, in advancing to 14-1 at home this season. The guard combined with forward Georges Niang – who scored game-high 24 points on nine of 17 shooting – for an unstoppable outside-inside combination that tallied 39 points in a heated contest with two technical fouls. The Mountaineers, now losers of four of five after the same winning streak following the victory over Iowa State, got 19 points and a solid defensive effort from Juwan Staten, but otherwise seemed lackadaisical after controlling the first five minutes.
"We did a terrible job in Niang," West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said on the MSN by IMG postgame radio show. "They made all their shots. And when you're void of scoring the ball around the goal like we are, you have to hit shots. We are like them aside from we don't have a guy who can pass the ball like Niang."
WVU failed to get off ball screens, close out on long distance attempts and was routinely beaten on the interior, especially by DeAndre Kane, who finished eight of 15 from the floor for 17 points and 11 rebounds. The Cyclones (22-5, 10-5) outscored WVU 46-24 in the paint and dominated the boards, 46-38, while sharing the ball effectively with 22 assists on 33 field goals. Lang and Dustin Hogue both added 15 points apiece.
Eron Harris, the target of the ISU student section due to his hard foul at the end of the first series game, missed 10 of his 14 shots, including all five from three-point range in scoring 15 points. Nathan Adrian missed three of four threes, and West Virginia, again playing without Terry Henderson, got zero bench scoring outside of Gary Browne's three points. Browne and Harris also failed to convert on multiple looks from point-blank range.
"He forced things," Huggins said of Harris. "You take Terry out of the deal, and there isn't another guy that can make shots (besides Harris). They put so much attention on Eron, if we could step out and make some shots, we could curl them, back cut, we can do things. They put Niang in the middle of the lane and made him a jump shooter and he forced shots. … Our problem is when other people make a shot, we can't get help in there. Our guys who can make it don't bounce it very well. It doesn't work. We had shots at the rim because they came running at us. And they drive it in and air ball it from four feet.
West Virginia (15-13, 7-8 Big 12) trailed 39-33 at the break, and found itself down double digits the majority of the second half. The Mountaineers had two chances at a run, the first when Melvin Ejim was called for a technical with 17:13 left. Harris hit both free throws to cut the edge to single digits before Remi Dibo, who originally was fouled, made his free throws for a 46-39 ISU lead. The two fouls on Ejim were his third and fourth, sending the forward to the bench. WVU then crept a bit closer at 51-45 on a pair of Dibo threes over the next couple minutes before Harris' putback at the 13-minute mark trimmed the edge to 53-49.
From there, West Virginia's twofold struggles to defend drives and rim pressure while addressing wide open three-pointers were the difference. Lang and Niang combined for three three-pointers in the next four ISU buckets. Then, when WVU began to extend its man, the Cyclones drove and attacked the rim. Kane hit a lay-in off an over-the-top pass into the paint, and Hogue drilled a driving lay-up before Niang converted a pair of free throws for a 70-59 lead inside seven minutes left.
West Virginia never got any closer than nine afterward as Niang continued to hit driving lay-ins or get to the line while ISU converted everything from tip-ins and jump shots to three-pointers and free throws in extending the lead to an insurmountable 81-65 lead with two minutes left. The Cyclones, the only team in the nation to score 70-plus points each game, shot 65 percent in the second half in advancing to 30-2 at the Hilton Coliseum over the last two seasons, the lone losses coming to Kansas. ISU is 17-0 when leading at the break this year.
The first five minutes were heated, with the Iowa State student section booing Harris each time he touched the ball. There were two tie-ups, one resulting in a stare down between Kevin Noreen, who was relaxed, and Ejim, who took exception to a foul. Dibo, who scored 14 points, also got involved when he backed down Niang and was fouled with plenty of contact on both players. ISU head coach Fred Hoiberg erupted off the bench, coming far out on the floor as the official timeout was called. The crowd, at this point, was all over the officiating crew, and those events set the heated temperature for the remainder of the contest.
WVU actually led 9-4 and had controlled the first five minutes before Iowa State went on a 13-2 run stopped by Adrian's three with 10:54 to play. The three, however, only monetarily stemmed the bleeding, as Iowa State scored the next 11 straight points for a 28-14 lead with 7:35 left. In all, the Cyclones dominated the pace and flow of play in outscoring WVU 24-5 over the eight-minute stretch. Huggins, in the midst of the run, was called for a technical with 9:33 left, and the Cyclones hit both free throws for a 24-14 lead.
"I said ‘You don't think that was a foul?' And he T's me," Huggins said. "I'm in the box. Then he starts saying I wasn't in the box. No, no, no. Don't make stuff up."
The Mountaineers pulled out of the funk by getting transition points from Staten, who triggered a 10-2 response to get WVU within 30-24 with 4:41 to play. The point guard scored on a jumper and lay-up while Devin Williams converted a jumper and dunk during the push, which seemed to settle both teams as they went back and forth over the final minutes. WVU missed nine of its 10 threes, and 20 of 32 shots overall in shooting just 37.5 percent. Iowa State wasn't significantly better, at 16 of 39 for 41 percent.
Huggins said he had no idea on the health status of Henderson. Henderson is expected to miss Saturday's home game against TCU.
"We gotta find a way to win a couple games," Huggins said. "Win that one (against TCU) and that gets us to 8-8 in the league and then we have to find a way to win a couple games."