The No. 14 West Virginia Mountaineers held off the No. 17 Iowa State Cyclones, 97-87, on Monday night at WVU Coliseum.
Jaysean Paige was the star of the night, scoring a career-high 34 points for West Virginia with 17 in each half, per the Big 12 Conference:
One of Paige's biggest baskets of the game came at the eight-minute, 30-second mark when he was fouled and hit a free throw for an old-fashioned three-point play and a 73-69 lead, per WVU Men's Basketball:
However, his 31st and 32nd points may have been the most entertaining of the night, per the Big 12 Conference:
Like nearly every other Big 12 Conference game, it was a battle until the end—despite the fact West Virginia had an eight-point lead at the break, 49-41. Matt Thomas' three-pointer at the 17:01 mark capped a 12-2 run to give the Cyclones a 53-51 lead, shown here courtesy of Iowa State Athletics:
Reid Forgrave of FoxSports.com noted how important Thomas is to Iowa State. He was averaging 10.4 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.6 assists and knocked down 42.7 percent of his three-point attempts coming into the game. He scored 14 points on Monday:
Fran Fraschilla absolutely right about Matt Thomas being all Big 12 player.' He's such a key to this Iowa State team.— Reid Forgrave (@ReidForgrave) February 23, 2016
From that point on it was a back-and-forth battle, to no surprise of the Student Union:
Oh weird...Iowa State playing a close game on Big Monday...shocking— Student Union (@StudentUSports) February 23, 2016
No team led by more than three until Paige's and-1 gave West Virginia a four-point lead it would never relinquish.
It didn't always appear this game would be close after West Virginia lived up to its "Press Virginia" nickname through the first 20 minutes, per WVU Men's Basketball:
#PressVirginia forced nine turnovers. WVU led 14-0 in points off turnovers and 17-2 in 2nd chance points. WVU's bench out scored ISU, 30-4.— WVU Men's Basketball (@WVUhoops) February 23, 2016
The Mountaineers also dominated on the glass in the first half, according to Jeff Borzello of ESPN:
West Virginia with 13 offensive rebounds in the first half; Iowa State has 14 total rebounds. Mountaineers up 17-2 in second-chance points.— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) February 23, 2016
While the bench came up big for West Virginia, scoring 69 points, starter Nathan Adrian showed off his three-point shooting in the first half, per WVU Men's Basketball:
Most of the bench scoring came from Paige. But Tarik Phillip added 22, while Devin Williams had 13 points and nine rebounds in a starting role.
Abdel Nader led five Cyclones in double digits with 23 points and seven rebounds. Georges Niang had 14 points, and Monte Morris contributed 13 points and four assists. However, West Virginia also forced Morris into an uncharacteristic four turnovers. Iowa State's 15 total turnovers were nearly four more than its 11.2 per-game average.
Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports humorously described what it's like to play the frustrating Mountaineers defense:
West Virginia basketball. Tougher than a long weekend at your in-laws.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) February 23, 2016
West Virginia is now alone in second place in the Big 12 at 10-5, while Iowa State drops to 8-7. It was a much-needed victory for the Mountaineers, who came into Monday's contest at home having lost three of four.
This conference has six of its 10 teams ranked in the AP Top 25 poll, and it's hard to predict what its games will bring each night except that every one will be a battle.
The Mountaineers have two winnable games up next at the Oklahoma State Cowboys and against the Texas Tech Red Raiders before finishing the season on the road against the No. 19 Baylor Bears.
Iowa State also should win its next two games at home against the Cowboys and the Kansas State Wildcats before finishing on the road in what will most likely be a loss at the No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks on their senior night.
Both teams should finish in the top of the Big 12 and earn byes in the first round of the conference tournament next month.
The victory was the second of the season for West Virginia over Iowa State and the 786th of head coach Bob Huggins’ career, tying him with Lefty Driesell and Cliff Ellis for ninth on the all-time coaching-wins list, per ESPN.com.
The 62-year-old coach was happy to get the victory, per Chris Anderson of Eersports.com.
“We never play for splits; I want to win them all.”
Huggins owed most of this victory to Paige, who was joyous after the game, per Geoff Coyle of WVIllustrated.com:
It was a disappointing effort for Iowa State, which is now hovering around .500 in the league. However, Jeff Eisenberg of Yahoo Sports doesn’t blame head coach Steve Prohm:
Iowa State supporters won't be satisfied with an 8-7 Big 12 record given preseason expectations, but blaming Steve Prohm is over-simplistic.— Jeff Eisenberg (@JeffEisenberg) February 23, 2016
Lack of depth has certainly been an issue all season, and it was apparent on Monday as Jameel McKay’s 10 points were the only ones from a non-starter, as ISU’s bench was out-scored by 59.
Paige, of course, provided the biggest punch, and he elaborated on his big night, per ESPN.com.
"I just try to attack and play my game," he said. "Other guys started hitting shots. They started to open the floor up a little bit, so it just gave me a lot more room to attack. I was just comfortable."