MORGANTOWN — Sherlock Holmes was needed in Morgantown on Feb. 3.
You see, the 15th-ranked WVU men’s basketball team broke out of a three-game slump with a dominating defensive effort that held Kansas State to its lowest point total of the season in what was an easy 89-51 victory by the Mountaineers, in front of 13,329 fans inside the WVU Coliseum.
Along the way, the Mountaineers (17-6, 6-4 Big 12) had many players suddenly make shots again, including Lamont West and Teddy Allen, who combined for 20 points, and Esa Ahmad was a perfect 3 of 3 shooting.
“We need to get those guys making shots, and then we’re pretty good again,” WVU head coach Bob Huggins said.
That wasn’t the mystery, although it’s been nearly a month since the Mountaineers scored like this.
Instead, it was the Mountaineers’ second-half defense, one that held the Wildcats (16-7, 5-5) to just six baskets and kept K-State point guard Barry Brown — the Big 12’s sixth-leading scorer at 17 points per game — to just one measly point in 31 minutes.
“It’s a secret. I can’t tell you,” Allen said after going for 12 points and four rebounds. “We’re probably going to use it again.”
OK, so we tried James “Beetle” Bolden, who made his first career start and finished with 13 points and three 3-pointers.
“No, I can’t really say too much about it,” Bolden said. “It’s a secret.”
It’s a secret that picked up the Mountaineers at their lowest point and revived them.
WVU, coming in after three straight losses, against TCU, Kentucky and Iowa State, also had a number of players dealing with the flu, which didn’t help to build much confidence.
Bolden and Daxter Miles Jr. were in and out of a hospital in recent days, receiving IV treatments to stay hydrated.
“Dax just sat and watched [Friday] in practice,” Huggins said. “He didn’t do anything.”
Needing some kind of boost; anything positive at all after giving up 93 points to Iowa State on Wednesday, Huggins and the Mountaineers reached deep into their bag of tricks and came up with, well, we don’t know exactly what to call it.
“It looks like a zone and that’s what we want people to think,” Bolden said. “I think it caught them off guard.”
It was a defense used in the second half, but WVU was equally impressive in the first half, holding Kansas State without a basket for nearly the final 10:21 of the half.
Only Levi Stockard III’s tip-in with two seconds left kept the Wildcats from that unfortunate feat.
In the second half, Kansas State went scoreless for 6:58, allowing WVU to push its lead up to as
In all, WVU held Kansas State to 14 field goals and 29.8 percent shooting, the third time this season the Mountaineers held an opponent to less than 30 percent from the field.
“They just kept pushing it and we got a little frustrated,” Kansas State head coach Bruce Weber said. “We couldn’t make some shots and then we kind of got a snowball going down a hill. We couldn’t stop it.”
And the Mountaineers certainly did not stop themselves, either.
“It’s not easy doing what we do on defense,” Miles said. “We could always use a little bit of energy and enthusiasm. That’s what makes it better. We had to get back into our defensive rhythm.”
WVU now finds itself in a wide open Big 12 race, after Kansas fell to Oklahoma State on Feb. 3. The Jayhawks are tied with Texas Tech at the top of the standings with 7-3 league marks, while WVU is just one game behind heading into Monday’s crucial matchup with 12th-ranked Oklahoma. The two schools are tied for second after the Sooners fell against Texas, 79-74.
WVU finding its defensive rhythm was the story on this day. Finding out what it was, well, that was impossible.
“It was a lot of energy and a lot of ball pressure,” said WVU forward Sagaba Konate, who finished with 19 points and nine rebounds. “We never knew when the coaches were going to use it. We had to be prepared for it. I like it. If you don’t like it, you’re not going to play.”