MANHATTAN, Kan. – Will Spradling scored 19 points and No. 14 Kansas State used a big first-half run to beat West Virginia 71-61 on Monday night, spoiling the return of Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins to the school he helped rebuild.
Nino Williams had 13 points off the bench, and Angel Rodriguez had 11 points and seven assists for the Wildcats (21-5, 10-3). They slipped into first place in the Big 12 by a half game over ninth-ranked Kansas and No. 14 Oklahoma State, who play each other Wednesday night.
Deniz Kilicli had 14 points for the Mountaineers (13-13, 6-7), but he didn’t get a whole lot of help. The rest of their starters combined for 13 points, with two of them getting shut out.
Huggins received a warm reception in his first trip back to Bramlage Coliseum, where he went 23-12 as coach of the Wildcats during the 2006-07 season. Huggins led the program to the NIT, its first postseason appearance in eight years, before skipping town for his alma mater.
The reception was probably the highlight for Huggins on this night.
He watched the Wildcats use an 18-2 run to seize control in the opening minutes, and then was whistled for a technical foul for arguing with officials in the second half. Moments later, his leading scorer — freshman guard Eron Harris – foul out after throwing an elbow on defense and picking up a technical foul of his own moments later.
There were plenty of whistles blown in this game.
The officials called 49 fouls, and both teams spent more than 18 minutes in the bonus. The Mountaineers also had center Aaric Murray foul out, the Wildcats lost Jordan Henriquez, and there were three others who had four fouls when the game finally ended.
The teams combined to shoot 53 free throws.
The Wildcats, who were coming off a second-half blitz that carried them to an 81-61 win over Baylor on Saturday, kept the momentum going during the first half Monday night.
They had a lot of help from the Mountaineers.
After conceding the first basket a minute into the game, the Wildcats went on their big run that covered the next 8 minutes. Gipson did most of the damage inside for the Wildcats, the burly sophomore forward at one point scoring seven consecutive points.
Murray finally hit a couple of baskets for West Virginia, but a layup by Spradling forced Huggins to call a timeout. Things continued to go so swimmingly for the Wildcats that 7-footer Henriquez, a 31-percent foul shooter, made both of his free throws late in the half.
West Virginia was just 1 of 8 from beyond the arc over the first 20 minutes, and committed eight turnovers – six of them during Kansas State’s big run early in the half.
The first half took close to an hour to finish because of a multitude of fouls – 19 in all. Both teams were in the bonus with 8:42 remaining, the Mountaineers getting there when the Wildcats were twice called for holding as West Virginia tried to inbound the ball under its own basket.
Kansas State extended its lead to 41-22 in the opening minutes of the second half when Kilicli tried to make a move on the low post. This time, no whistle blew and Huggins roared out onto the court in a rage, his face beet-red and an assistant coach holding him back.
Huggins was hit with the technical foul, drawing a roar from the crowd, and Spradling made both free throws to give the Wildcats their biggest lead of the night with 16:25 remaining.
The outburst seemed to rile up the Mountaineers, who scored the next seven points to get within 43-29 with just under 14 minutes left in the game. But the Wildcats started to match them basket-for-basket, and another technical foul – this one on Harris, who threw an elbow toward Spradling’s head while guarding him at the top of the key – finished off West Virginia.
Harris, the Mountaineers’ leading scorer, also picked up a personal and fouled out of the game. Meanwhile, Spradling hit all four of his foul shots to restore a 58-40 lead.
The Wildcats coasted the rest of the way to their sixth loss in their last seven games, the only defeat coming against rival Kansas on the road. Kansas State hasn’t lost at home since also falling to the Jayhawks in Bramlage Coliseum on Jan. 22.