KANSAS CITY, Mo. — An 8-0 run pushed West Virginia to a nine-point lead with 3:30 left, and the Mountaineers made it stand up to beat Kansas State, 73-67, in the first game of the Big 12 Tournament on Wednesday.
Before the run, Kansas State (14-17) cut West Virginia’s lead to 61-60 with 5:57 left on a layup by Nijel Pack. After a few empty possessions, Mountaineers guard Taz Sherman drained a 3-pointer, and after a stop on the other end his teammate, Malik Curry, hit another one. Then, after a K-State turnover, guard Sean McNeil made a layup to make it 69-60 with 3:30 left, leading to a time out.
The Wildcats never made it a one-possession game after that.
McNeil led the Mountaineers with 21 points, while Curry added 17.
Nijel Pack led Kansas State with 18 points, while Mark Smith had 17 and Ishmal Massoud added 13.
There was drama in the background, too, as there is speculation that this may be Kansas State head coach Bruce Weber’s last season in Manhattan. Just five seasons ago he led the Wildcats to the Elite Eight. But, after three straight losing seasons, Wednesday’s loss could have been his last guiding the program.
Right after the Wildcats’ season finale, Weber said he had “no idea” about his job status.
Wednesday’s game was the only first-round game, as Oklahoma State cannot play in the Big 12 Tournament due to its NCAA postseason ban. For that reason, No. 7 seed Oklahoma advanced to a quarterfinal game against No. 2 seed Baylor on Thursday.
McNeil fueled the Mountaineers throughout the first half, scoring 15 points, including a trio of 3-pointers. That was enough to give West Virginia a 38-34 going into the break. Meanwhile, the trio of Massoud, Pack and Smith helped the Wildcats stay in striking distance, as they scored 13, eight and seven points, respectively.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.