MANHATTAN — West Virginia coach Bob Huggins was unsurprised, the Bramlage Coliseum crowd of 8,549 was delighted and the Kansas State Wildcats finally got the monkey off their backs.
Turns out it's not time to throw dirt on K-State's disappointing season just yet.
Just when things looked their worst, the Wildcats turned in a magical performance Saturday against No. 12-ranked West Virginia, showing a renewed energy as well as resilience in the face of a furious comeback to claim an 84-68 victory over the Mountaineers.
"We were shocked they didn't listen to what I told them," Huggins said of his players. "Who didn't know (the Wildcats) were going to be desperate, and who didn't know Bruce (Weber, K-State coach) wouldn't have them ready to play. Bruce is one of the better coaches in the country.
"I mean, you tell me he's not going to have them ready to play whenever they haven't won a (Big 12) game yet and they're playing at home? We weren't ready to play and they just dominated us."
It was the first conference victory for K-State, which improved to 8-9 overall and 1-4 in the Big 12. And it came in the middle of three-game stretch against ranked opponents.
Huggins wasn't the only one who expected the Wildcats to show new life. Junior point guard Cartier Diarra was busy on his phone telling his teammates before the game that they were due for a breakout performance, especially from what had been an anemic offense.
"I felt like we got a good amount of transition points. West V pressured us a lot, so we just adjusted and made the right reads," Diarra said after the Wildcats shot an uncharacteristic 59.2% against a Mountaineer defense that ranked second in the Big 12, allowing just 59.3 points per game. "Just going back, I sent a couple of text messages out in our group chat and I just let guys know what we should be scoring.
"I feel like we have a really good scoring team, that we should be averaging 80 points a game, and today we did that, and I think everybody kind of held up their side of the numbers I told everybody that they should have. That's why we came up with the (win)."
Diarra again filled up the stat sheet for K-State, scoring 25 points with four assists and a team-high six rebounds. He also turned the ball over seven times.
Xavier Sneed added 16 points and freshman DaJuan Gordon a career-high 15 with four steals off the bench. Junior college transfer David Sloan, making his first career start, had 9 points, 5 assists and 4 steals with just one turnover.
But the victory was not without some anxious moments for the Wildcats. They never trailed after the 12-minute mark of the first half, but appeared headed for an epic meltdown midway through the second period when West Virginia reeled off 15 straight points, trimming a 23-point deficit to eight.
K-State turned it over on six straight possessions during the stretch.
Weber called a timeout with 10:17 left and the Wildcats still up nine, and after turning the ball over on the next possession, they answered the call.
"At the timeout, I just said, 'Guys, we've been here, and what are we going to do?' Weber said. "And I said, 'We have more points than them. If we stop them, we'll win the game.'
"I think we had three, four shutouts in a row and they went down and fouled and we had a couple of plays that got it back to double digits and we were able to coast to a win."
West Virginia cut it to 60-54 with on a Brandon Knapper 3-pointer with 7:43 left, but that's when the Wildcats put their foot down.
Diarra and Sneed each converted one-and-one free throw opportunities to start a nine-point run that also included a Diarra 3-pointer and two Sloan foul shots to make it 69-54 with 5:14 to go. The Wildcats not only held on, but dominated the rest of the way.
"They did whatever they wanted to do," said Huggins, whose Mountaineers fell to 14-3 overall and 3-2 in the Big 12.
Chase Harler and Miles McBride led West Virginia with 11 points each, while Gabe Osabuohien added 10. Oscar Tshiebwe, who came in averaging 11.8 points and 9.6 rebounds, scored all eight for his points in the first half but finished with a team-high seven boards.
K-State closed the half with a six-point run to lead 42-25 at intermission. The Wildcats hit their last six shots of the period and outscored West Virginia 12-2 over the last 2:34.
K-State, which lost at home to Texas Tech, closes out its three-game murderer's row this Tuesday at No. 6 Kansas.