The Mountaineers, punchless for the majority of the game, finally found some haymakers in Eron Harris and Matt Humphrey. The duo combined for seven three-pointers to charge a 31-13 push over the final 8:43. And when Jabarie Hinds nailed West Virginia’s ninth and final three of the game for the last of his career-high 20 points, the Mountaineers had rallied from behind 47-30 to a 67-67 tie with 11.6 seconds left.
The table was set, as it was in West Virginia’s 65-64 loss to No. 18 Kansas State on Saturday. Get a stop, make one more offensive play, and get a key conference win. Unfortunately, none of the above materialized as ISU’s Korie Lucious found Georges Niang for a lay-in with two seconds left and Harris, despite being knocked to the ground after an inbounds pass from Aaric Murray, wasn’t awarded a deserved foul as time expired.
“That was every bit as much of a foul as what they called on us against Kansas State,” West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins told MSN radio. “That’s fair to say. I just can’t believe it. There’s no question there’s a bump and he falls down. I don’t care what they call as long as it’s consistent. Let’s be honest. We are a couple calls from being 3-1 in the league rather than 1-3. They have to be consistent in the way the whistle is blown.”
Huggins exploded in anger as the crew swallowed the whistle, throwing a towel to the floor and berating the referees for yet another inconsistent Big 12 officiating job. It was the third loss, and second in a row, for WVU in one possession games.
Frankly, it was remarkable it was even that close. After a solid first half, West Virginia (8-8, 1-3 Big 12) buried itself under an avalanche of mediocre defense, poor interior play and question decision making. Iowa State, ahead just 29-26 at the break, scored 18 of the first 22 second-half points to take the 47-30 lead. The Cyclones (12-4, 2-1) used a 2-3 zone to confuse the Mountaineers, who turned the ball over on two straight possessions early in the run. WVU then compounded the problem by also allowing lay-ins on the other end on three consecutive trips as the Cyclones surged to a 40-28 edge with 16 minutes to play.
A Melvin Ejim three-pointer, his third of the game, made it 47-30 with 12:21 left and ended the 18-4 run. Huggins then took the fourth of WVU’s five timeouts, having burned three of them in less than a seven-minute span to open the second half. It didn’t matter. Iowa State drilled another three to go ahead 50-33, and the 13,148 in attendance celebrated as the rout was seemingly on.
West Virginia, which to that point never found any kind of an offensive groove, finally looked like a team with some rhythm when Huggins moved to a smaller line-up. He paired Harris, Humphrey and Hinds on the perimeter with Staten the distributor, and used either Noreen or Murray inside. Suddenly, West Virginia came to life.
It got within 56-47 with 6:17 left on Humphrey’s three-pointer, then forced a turnover before Harris, who finished with 17 points on four threes, started his hot hand by canning a deep two from the corner. That capped an 11-0 run that made it 56-49 with 6:03 left.
It was 58-51 with five minutes remaining when Hinds missed a lay-up and ISU answered with a pair of free throws. But Harris again drilled a huge three off a feed from Humphrey and, suddenly, West Virginia was within 60-54 with four minutes left.
Player of the Game
6-10 shooting, 4-7 3pt
The Mountaineers then forced a turnover on the ensuing Iowa State possession, and Harris struck again, ripping an off-balance tray to make it 60-57 with 3:30 left. WVU had a chance to tie when ISU missed a pair of free throwws. But Staten, showing his selfishness, tried a bad three from the corner and the rebound try hit off Noreen’s leg. The Cyclones took advantage, upping the edge to 64-57 on Lucious’ jumper and pair of free throws with little more than two minutes to play.
West Virginia had one push left. Harris’ stuck a step-back three to bring WVU within 66-61 at the 1:43 mark before Humphrey hit a three from the left side of the arc off a feed from Staten to trim the edge to 67-64 with 69 seconds left. Both teams then burned full timeouts before the Mountaineers played solid defense, only to have Harris foul 28 feet from the basket with just 12 seconds remaining on the Iowa State shot clock.
The Cyclones, however, didn’t score off the mistake and WVU created a shot clock violation when Murray blocked a lay-up try and ISU threw up a prayer that never came close. The Mountaineers took over with 27 seconds left, and when Hinds’ defender fell down, the sophomore stuffed the three from deep in the right corner to tie 67-67 with 11.6 seconds left.
“You know, the truth of the matter is the team was built to play in the Big East, which has bigger, stronger guys,” Huggins said. “The Big 12 plays with quicker guys. But playing with these bigger guys hasn’t worked. We are going to play one big and switch everything (from here on). We won’t play (many interior players). We don’t have a choice. It’s not advantageous to have a post guy. … Matt Humphrey came in and (was solid). Eron Harris got hot. Jabarie has been very aggressive.”
Besides Hinds’ 20 and Harris’ 17, West Virginia got nine points from Humphrey and seven from Staten. West Virginia’s interior group of Dominique Rutledge, Deniz Kilicli, Keaton Miles, Noreen and Murray combined for 12 points in 77 minutes.
“I’m done, I’m just done,” Huggins said of trying to find a combination of forwards and centers that work. “I won’t have it anymore.”
The game marked the first time Iowa State, which leads the Big 12 in points, assists and three-pointers per game, scored less than 70 in any contest this year. ISU was led by 16 points from Ejim and 15 from Lucious in winning its ninth straight conference home game. Both teams shot 41 percent from the floor. WVU had a 38-33 rebounding advantage.