Jayhawks storm back to top West Virginia
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Trailing by 12 points with under nine minutes remaining, the No. 10 Kansas Jayhawks outscored No. 6 West Virginia, 28-11, to close out a come-from-behind win over the Mountaineers Monday night inside WVU Coliseum, 71-66. Senior guards Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and Devonte’ Graham combined for 33 points, 20 of which came in the final eight minutes, to help their team stage its largest comeback win on the road in nearly 21 years.
The victory, which marked Kansas’ seventh-straight road win over an Associated Press top-10 ranked team, moved the Jayhawks to 15-3 on the year and 5-1 in the Big 12. The Mountaineers suffered their second-straight loss, falling to 15-3 and 4-2. KU picked up its first win in Morgantown in its last five tries.
For more than three quarters of the contest, it appeared that West Virginia would complete its fifth-consecutive home-court victory over the Jayhawks, stretching their lead to 16 points in the first half and 15 in the early seconds of the second. But this time, Kansas was able to flip the script. It took nearly 30 minutes of game action, but the Jayhawk shots began to fall and KU managed to solve “Press Virginia”.
Staring at a 12-point deficit after WVU senior guard Javon Carter connected on a jumper with 8:54 remaining in the game, the Kansas offense exploded for a 20-5 run that quickly erased the deficit. An alley-oop dunk from Graham to Udoka Azubuike began the run, which saw Kansas hit seven of its eight field goal attempts over the five-minute spurt.
Graham followed up his feed to Azubuike with a three-point play on a driving lay-up to get the KU deficit back to single digits at 55-48 at the 7:53 mark. Mykhailiuk then hit back-to-back 3-pointers, sandwiched around an Esa Ahmad trey, getting the Jayhawks to within six points with 5:40 left in regulation.
The Ahmad bucket would be the Mountaineers’ only field goal over nearly five minutes as the KU defense gave WVU a taste of its own medicine. Kansas forced the home team into five turnovers over the final eight minutes of action and held West Virginia to just three field goals on its final 11 shots.
Following Mykhailiuk’s two threes and a pair of Malik Newman free throws, Graham nailed his third trey of the game from the wing to bring his team within a point, 60-59, still with four minutes to go.
The Jayhawks took their first lead of the game when Mykhailiuk, fouled going for a rebound, converted on two free throws. Graham followed with his final bucket of the game, a lay-up at the 3:17 mark, to get KU out to a three-point lead.
West Virginia briefly regained the lead when Carter and Ahmad scored four-straight points on back-to-back possessions. The Mountaineers sat with a 64-63 lead as the game clock ticked below two minutes.
That lead, the Mountaineers’ final one of the game, lasted less than 20 seconds. Mykhailiuk drove to the hoop and shot in his fifth and final field goal high off the glass. On WVU’s ensuing possession, Mykhailiuk came up big again, pulling down a rebound and absorbing a foul in the process. The senior swished both foul shots to close out his game-high 17-point scoring effort and hand his team a 67-64 lead with 90 seconds remaining.
Daxter Miles Jr., scored his team’s final bucket with a minute to play, but Mitch Lightfoot answered on the other end with a two-handed flush, giving Kansas a 3-point lead as the Mountaineers headed for what would be their final possession.
Javon Carter would be the one called upon to take his team’s final shot, but his three try was off the mark. Newman pulled down the rebound and hit two free throws in the final 14 seconds to seal Kansas’ comeback victory. The win marked the Jayhawks’ largest come-from-behind victory on the road since Jan. 29, 1997, when KU, also trailing by 16, stormed back to top Texas Tech.
The Jayhawks were put on their heels by “Press Virginia” early, committing seven turnovers in the first eight minutes. The stingy WVU defense helped the Mountaineers take a 17-11 lead before the second media timeout of the half.
KU tried to keep pace with the fast West Virginia start, but WVU erupted for a 13-0 and led, 30-17. The Jayhawks went scoreless for nearly four-straight minutes. The Mountaineer lead grew to 16 on Esa Ahmad’s lay-in with 30 seconds left in the half, but Graham connected on his first three of the night 15 seconds later to send the teams to the break with WVU leading, 41-28.
Kansas, which shot just 37.5 percent from the field in the first half, continued to have trouble getting the lid off the rim after halftime. The Jayhawks hit two of their first eight shots and West Virginia led, 47-33, five minutes into the half.
A Newman 3-pointer kicked off a 9-2 KU spurt, and Lightfoot’s lay-up with 11:26 remaining cut the deficit to 49-42. WVU got its lead back to double figures after four-straight points from Ahmad and Javon Carter, but the monster Kansas run ensued.
Mykhailiuk ended the game with 17 points (3-of-6 from beyond the arc). Graham scored 16, eight of which came in the last eight minutes of regulation. Azubuike joined the two seniors in double figures with 10 points in just 20 minutes of action. The 7-0 foot sophomore was also just one rebound shy of his fifth double-double of the season.
Kansas returns home to face Baylor on Saturday, Jan. 20. The game will start at 5 p.m. and be televised on ESPN. Kansas leads the overall series with Baylor, 29-4, and has won the 10 match-ups though the last four battles have been decided by six points or less. The Jayhawks are 15-0 against the Bears in meetings in Lawrence, including a 14-0 record in Allen Fieldhouse.
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