MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Just about every time Kansas State huddled up, coach Bruce Weber reminded his team to keep its poise, even while whistles seemed to be sounding every time they turned around.
They managed to do it better than West Virginia.
Will Spradling scored 19 points, Nino Williams added 13 and the No. 13 Wildcats used a big first-half run to beat the Mountaineers 71-61 on Monday night, spoiling the return of coach Bob Huggins to the school he helped rebuild.
Angel Rodriguez and Thomas Gipson each had 11 points, and Rodney McGruder added 10 for the Wildcats (21-5, 10-3), who slipped into first place in the Big 12 by a half game over ninth-ranked Kansas and No. 14 Oklahoma State. Those two teams play each other Wednesday night.
“It was just a very physical game,” Weber said. “I’m glad our kids kept their poise for the most part. … We stayed the course and stayed strong and did what we needed to.”
The officials called 49 fouls, and both teams spent more than 18 minutes in the bonus. The Mountaineers had center Aaric Murray and leading scorer Eron Harris 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.
“You got to stand your ground,” Weber said. “One time I just said, `What do you want us to do? Let them cut and get a layup?’ You have to guard them somehow.
“It was a very hard game to officiate,” Weber added. “I know people get upset. I get upset. But I wouldn’t take their job for anything.”
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 — fouled out after throwing an elbow on defense and then picking up a technical foul of his own.
“I mean, I really like this place,” Huggins said. “I like the people. The people have been wonderful. It’s nice to see people you haven’t seen in a while, but at the end of the day, it’s a business trip. We’re supposed to win. We didn’t.”
Deniz Kilicli had 16 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.
“We were just holding the ball,” said the Mountaineers’ Jabarie Hinds. “We didn’t have that much movement in our offense, so it was kind of easy for K-State to defend us.”
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.
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 Wildcats led 33-20 at the break.
“Let’s be honest. We give them five, maybe, layups in half-court defense in the first half,” Huggins said. “Maybe another three or four in the second half. You’re talking somewhere between 16 and 20 points that were point-blank layups that eighth-graders make.”
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.
“It was something we talked about in several huddles. `Keep your poise. Let them do what they need to do. Don’t retaliate,'” Weber said. “We can’t back down, but we still have to guard.”
The Wildcats coasted down the stretch, with the Mountaineers scoring a few buckets in the final minutes to make the final score much more competitive than the game itself.
“When we win, it’s because we play hard. We guard,” Weber said, before adding: “And we’ve gotten better on offense.”