Justin Jackson, Men's Basketball, Sports, WVU Sports

Inexperienced Mountaineers commit too many errors in 78-53 loss to No. 14 Kansas

LAWRENCE, Kan. — Chase Harler’s 3-pointer from the corner was far from any type of moral victory Saturday.

It was, however, maybe a huge sigh of relief for West Virginia, who lost its third straight game by at least 22 points, this one a 78-53 loss against No. 14 Kansas, in front of a sold-out Allen Fieldhouse crowd of 16,300.

Harler’s three — making it a 78-45 contest — with 2:11 remaining ensured the Mountaineers would score more than the Jayhawks (20-6, 9-4 Big 12) did in the first half, when they raced out to a 43-16 halftime lead.

“I felt like we were well prepared to come in and play a competitive game,” Harler said. “Things we did in practice, we didn’t carry it over into the game. We really need to work on that.”

Playing its first game without forwards Esa Ahmad and Wes Harris, who were dismissed from the team Monday for violations of athletic department policy, the Mountaineers (10-15, 2-10) struggled offensively.

For a third consecutive game, WVU was held to under 40 percent shooting from the field. The Mountaineers shot 34 percent (20 of 59) against Kansas and could only muster three 3-pointers out of 23 attempts from behind the arc.

Already faced with continuing problems such as turnovers — the Mountaineers had 24 against Kansas — and a lack of any type of defense, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins would like to at least avoid a trifecta of headaches.

Huggins did not credit the Mountaineers’ lack of offense on Ahmad and Harris’ absence.

“No, I think it was because we played a very good team today and a very well-prepared team today,” he said. “They’re a very talented team. They’re a lot better than we are.”

Without Ahmad and Harris in the Mountaineers’ lineup, as well as starters Sagaba Konate (knee) and James “Beetle” Bolden (ankle) — both of those players made the trip, but were not dressed for action — it would be hard to figure West Virginia being a favorite against anyone in the Big 12.

“Absolutely this is a hiccup and I don’t know that I look at it the same way as [the media],” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “I think fans and media look at it differently than coaches. [Huggins] doesn’t need to get it turned around. It’s still going in the right direction. This is a hiccup.

“They’re not going to need to change what they do. He’s lost four starters. You take four starters off any team in America; take Duke’s four starters or take Michigan State’s or Michigan’s or any four starters off, you’re not going to be as effective. I think it’s unfortunate and he’s dealing with more crap from that standpoint than he ever has in his whole career, but don’t ever feel sorry for Huggs at all, because they’re not going anywhere at all. This is just a step sideways for them.”

It was a sideways step that saw plenty of the same mistakes.

Passes landed in the stands — about three or four rows deep — while at other times West Virginia players simply could not catch a simple pass or hold onto the basketball.

Dribbling in transition on one possession, Brandon Knapper tried to stop and change direction and simply face planted himself to the court and lost control of the ball.

Emmitt Matthews Jr. picked up his first start of his career in place of either Ahmad or Harris, but turned the ball over four times.

Andrew Gordon had the unfortunate distinction of picking up four fouls in the first half — three of them offensive fouls — before fouling out with 10:22 remaining in the game.

In his 10 minutes of action, he attempted no shots, didn’t grab a rebound and committed four turnovers.

If guys were looking to take advantage of the opportunity for more playing time without Ahmad and Harris, this probably wasn’t what they had in mind.

To their credit, West Virginia players did not point fingers at their former teammates’ absence.

“Everyone had to play,” Harler said. “We just have to keep moving forward. We really need to work on some things on defense. We worked on some things this week, but it didn’t translate to the game.”

If not for that late 3-pointer by Harler and a couple of free throws from Lamont West and a garbage-time dunk by walk-on Taevon Horton, West Virginia’s offensive output would have been much worse.

Harler tied a season-high with 11 points and West contributed the same. Derek Culver was just 2 of 10 from the field, but finished with nine points and 12 rebounds.

The Mountaineers will have little time to lick their wounds, as they travel home to face No. 18 Kansas State, which lost to Iowa State on Saturday, 76-64.

Kansas, now just a half-game back of the Wildcats in the league standings, was led by freshman Devon Dotson’s 15 points and eight assists. He scored 13 in the first half.

“I thought he was just terrific in the first half,” Self said. “He was great.”