Thomas Gipson was unsettled with his last game.
The K-State junior forward, and the team’s vocal leader, battled early foul trouble against Oklahoma and finished with just four points and six rebounds.
(Kansas State’s Shane Southwell shoots over West Virignia’s Brandon Watkins on Saturday in Bramlage Coliseum. Southwell and Thomas Gipson each scored 20 points in the 78-56 win).
Gipson wasted no time turning it around on Saturday, scoring 20 points and adding six rebounds as Kansas State won 78-56 over West Virginia at Bramlage Coliseum.
Gipson said the coaches told him he needed to bounce back.
“That’s just part of being a leader,” he said. “I kind of took it hard on myself last game, I really wasn’t in a rhythm, and I was in foul trouble, I really couldn’t get in the motion of playing. I just really wanted to come out and play hard in this game and try and get early shots and rebounds for my team.”
Gipson scored eight points in the first half on 4-of-5 shooting, while Southwell did work with 12. Gipson added another 12 in the second half, as he and the Southwell both finished with 20.
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said his team had no answer for Gipson.
“He had his way, scored the ball, got in on the rim,” he said. “We had a couple freshmen on him and he just big boy’ed them.”
K-State (14-4, 4-1 Big 12) needed a big game from someone after leading scorer Marcus Foster went out in foul trouble before the 13-minute mark of the first half. The answer came from upperclassmen in Gipson and Southwell.
While the Wildcats have been paced so often by its freshmen this season, it was Gipson and Southwell who kept things running smooth without Foster.
Right after the freshman picked up his second foul, the Wildcats allowed West Virginia (10-8, 2-3) to cut its lead to 12-11. From there, a 3-pointer from Will Spradling kicked off a 16-4 run over the next eight minutes, pushing the Wildcats out ahead 28-15.
When the Mountaineers brought the lead back to single digits, K-State got a jumpshot from Nino Williams and a 3-pointer from Southwell to go ahead by 14.
With 2:07 to play, Southwell found Wesley Iwundu for an alley-oop dunk, and less than a minute later he put back a Williams miss with a dunk of his own.
Southwell said that gave the Wildcats, who led 37-24 at halftime, all the momentum.
“Anytime you get two dunks, as a team, your morale goes up,” he said. “It was really big for us. We just wanted to keep being disciplined on defense when we came back because they were pushing the ball real quick at us after every basket, or after every miss. We used the momentum, and used it the right way.”
From the start of the second half, K-State used its momentum to extend its lead quickly. Southwell opened the frame with a 3-pointer, and then Foster scored five straight to push the lead to 20.
Gipson scored back-to-back buckets on the inside, and then Foster and Southwell traded turns hitting 3-pointers, and the Wildcats went ahead by 25 with a quick 10-0 run.
Huggins said the Wildcats’ ability to move the ball and put together long possessions killed the Mountaineers.
“They really pass the ball, I think that’s the best thing they do, I think that’s better than their defense,” Huggins said. “Everyone wants to talk about their defense, and their defense is good, but offensively they make you work. They pass it and cut, pass it and cut, and they end up with someone with a pretty good shot at the end.”
(Kansas State’s Will Spradling tries to drive past West Virginia’s Kevin Noreen on Saturday in Bramlage Coliseum).
The Wildcats finished the game with 22 assists to just 13 turnovers, led by an eight-assist-to-no-turnover performance by Jevon Thomas.
Southwell said they’ve shown this season that their ability to pass the ball to create shots can make the difference in a game.
“It’s been proven all season, especially in games we play well,” he said. “We had 22 assists on 28 field goals, which is great for us. If we’re passing the ball well and defending well, that’s a good recipe to win.”
The Wildcats finished the game with another strong shooting performance at 54 percent from the field, and 42 percent from long range.
K-State coach Bruce Weber said they have gradually improved on offense this season, after focusing on defense from the start.
“You want to be solid on both, the best teams do both,” he said. “We had so many new guys early, we had to decide what we really want to emphasize. I think 2/3 of our practices were probably defense early. Our shot selection is much better and if you guard people it gives you a chance to win. This is the time we’ve got to get better, if we can do that, then we can stay in the race.”
Foster finished with 15 points for the Wildcats in just 13 minutes on the floor. West Virginia was led by Eron Harris, who had 21 points, while Juwan Staten finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds.