Bill Self and the Kansas Jayhawks despise traveling to Morgantown to face the Mountaineers, and for good reason. After Tuesday’s 85-69 win, WVU Basketball has won four consecutive games at home against the Jayhawks.
“There’s no place like home!” shrieked Frank Mason III and Devonte Graham as Press Virginia heated things up on Tuesday night. OK, I lied – that’s Dorothy’s plea to travel home in The Wizard of Oz – but it seemed fitting. “Kansas doesn’t like playing basketball in Morgantown,” just doesn’t have the same ring to it. For the fourth year in a row, the West Virginia Mountaineers have beaten the Kansas Jayhawks in Morgantown.
During the 2013-14 season and again in ’14-15, Kansas was ranked 8th in the country; in ’15-16 they were ranked 1st, and on Tuesday they were ranked 2nd.
The Mountaineers didn’t win in typical Press Virginia fashion, but defeating the No. 2 team is certainly a good measuring stick moving forward. Forcing only 13 turnovers, one would think West Virginia was beaten handily by Kansas. However, the Mountaineers only turned it over eight times themselves and were the superior team from the free throw line, making 82 percent of their shots compared to Kansas’ 40 percent.
Esa Ahmad was the real star of the game, pouring in a career-high 27 points. He got the game started with six straight points for the ‘Eers, and opened the second half with a flurry as well, causing a quick timeout from Kansas head coach Bill Self. After scoring a combined 21-points in his last three games, Ahmad came up big when the Mountaineers needed a hero.
Last week, West Virginia lost two games – by a combined six total points – to inferior opponents. Their Top-10 ranking vanished and onlookers began the “they are who we thought they were” comments.
Pre-game Tuesday night, Jayhawks head coach Bill Self was asked about the Mountaineers and had this to say, “They could easily be 19-0 and No.1 in the country.”
Self is absolutely right.
But that means absolutely nothing.
With 11 games remaining on the schedule, West Virginia can’t get comfortable now. On Saturday, the highly-promoted SEC/Big 12 Challenge will tip-off at noon with Texas A&M and the Mountaineers. Following that game, WVU still has trips to Iowa State, Oklahoma, Kansas, TCU and Baylor. Two of those teams (Kansas, Baylor) are ranked in the top-5, while one’s already beaten us (Oklahoma). If the Mountaineers want to fight for a top-8 seed in the tourney, they’ll need to finish strong in conference play.
Scoring came rather easily to West Virginia against Kansas, though, getting the ‘Eers back on track. Besides Ahmad’s 27, Nate Adrian added 11 points while Daxter Miles, Jr. and Tarik Phillip chipped in 10. Jevon Carter was a stat-sheet-stuffer and served up a near triple-double, totaling nine points, nine assists and eight rebounds. Elijah Macon scored seven points and made three of his four free throws.
With an entire team effort and performance like we saw Tuesday night, West Virginia has something positive to look to and build on. They beat Kansas, great! The next game is the biggest, though – because it’s the next game. Did beating Kansas right the ship for Bob Huggins? In the short term it appears so, but only time will tell.