MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Bob Huggins heard the praise about Kansas State’s defense, but after watching the Wildcats firsthand he sees both ends of the floor as a solid product.
Shane Southwell and Thomas Gipson scored 20 points apiece and Marcus Foster added 15 as Kansas State beat West Virginia, 78-56, Saturday.
Kansas State turned in its second-best performance in assists with 22 on 28 made baskets.
“They came down and they got shots inside the last 10 seconds (of the shot clock) and everyone wants to talk about their defense, and their defense is good, don’t get me wrong,” Huggins said. “But offensively they make you work. They pass it, cut, pass it and cut.”
Eron Harris had 21 points while Juwan Staten contributed 16 points and 11 rebounds to pace the Mountaineers (10-8, 2-3 Big 12).
Kansas State’s lockdown defense continues to blossom as the Wildcats limited West Virginia to 32.7 percent shooting (16 of 49).
The Mountaineers entered averaging 79.9 points per game while shooting just under 46 percent. The 22-point defeat was the largest loss of the season for the Mountaineers.
“We’ve even talked about it as a staff,” Wildcats coach Bruce Weber said of his team’s sound defense. “I think (associate head) Coach (Chris) Lowery even said that we might be better defensively than we were a year ago.”
The game was Huggins’ second trip back to Manhattan after spending one season at the helm of the Wildcats program during the 2006-2007 season.
Kansas State (14-4, 4-1) trailed for just 2:19 of the contest and led for the final 35 minutes.
The Wildcats shot 54.9 percent, their best percentage of the season, surpassing their previous high of 52.5 percent against TCU.
After two quick 3-pointers from Harris, the Wildcats answered the lone push of West Virginia by going on a 17-5 run and opening up a 20-13 lead with 8:43 left in the first half.
The Wildcats shot 58.3 percent from the field in the first half as well as going 5 of 10 from 3-point range.
“They really pass the ball, that’s the best thing they do,” Huggins said. “I think that’s better than their defense. They really do pass the ball.”
Southwell paced the Wildcats with 12 first-half points while Gipson contributed eight points.
“Shane had started a little slow and then got going and then he had a couple of games where he didn’t get involved,” Weber said. “And now three or four in a row, whatever it is, he has been pretty solid. It’s an all-around game. It’s 20 points on 10 shots and he made all his free throws.”
Southwell’s performance included an assist on an alley-oop dunk for Wesley Iwundu as well as a dunk of his own, pushing the Kansas State lead to its largest first-half lead of 15 points with 1:15 left till the break.
Thanks to a quick 3-pointer from Foster, the Wildcats opened up the second half on a 15-6 run and continued to dominate the defensive end of the floor.
Outside of the production from Harris and Staten, West Virginia struggled mightily, shooting 22 percent (6 of 27) from the field.
With the win, Kansas State has held 15 of its last 17 opponents under their scoring average. It has also held 10 opponents under 60 points.
Six points capped off Gipson’s performance in the final 3 minutes of the game, including his last with 1:25 left.
“I told him that we had a good game as a team and your game will come,” Southwell said of Gipson bouncing back from a rough performance against Oklahoma. “He just came back and practiced really hard because he didn’t want that to happen again. He has been having a really good season. He came out in practice and it started in practice. He came out here and was aggressive.”
An offensive output like this afternoon’s, along with its often talked-about defense, is a recipe for success in the mind of Weber.
“I’ve really tried to hammer in that this is the time that we’ve got to get better,” Weber said. “We’ve got to improve and stay with our defense, the defense that we’ve had. But also get better on offense. You do that and we can stay in the (Big 12) race.”