MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – From trailing by 13 points at halftime, to leading by as many as eight points in the second half, West Virginia (12-2, 1-1 Big 12) did it again on Saturday.
“I think the biggest thing is the will to win,” head coach Bob Huggins said following Saturday’s three-point win over Kansas State. “It’s not necessarily all making shots. And in some cases, it comes down to ball security. Who do you have that’s going to give you ball security?”
WVU has been a better team in the second half for much of this season.
Overall, the Mountaineers have outscored their opponents by just 26 points in the first half. After halftime, they’ve outscored the opposition by a total of 91 points. That’s less than a two-point lead at halftime, on average, but outscoring the opposing team by nearly seven points per game after halftime.
West Virginia is 7-1 in games this season in which it has led by three or fewer points, or has trailed, at halftime. That includes Saturday’s comeback against Kansas State, and second-half comebacks against UAB and Eastern Kentucky.
“We’ve been there before. We’ve been down 20 in Texas last year. I’ve been in the same situation with these guys a whole lot of times,” senior forward Gabe Osabuohien said. “When we’re down, we just look at each other, we know what we got to do. It’s just handling business.”
The Mountaineers, however, are 5-1 when leading by four or more points at the break. The lone loss in this scenario was a second-half let down against Marquette, during which WVU let an eight-point halftime lead slip away.
“Ultimately I just think it’s different issues, because each game is different,” said senior guard Kobe Johnson. “You never know what’s going to come. And we just got to adjust when it happens.”
So far this season, West Virginia has played exactly half of its games against opponents that belong to a Power 5 conference, or that currently rank in the top 60 of the latest NET Rankings. WVU is undefeated in games against all other opponents.
In those seven games against Power 5 foes, or teams with an above-average NET ranking:
- WVU has been outscored by a total of 11 points in the first half. This includes a 12-point halftime cushion against Pittsburgh, but a pair of double-digit deficits against Texas and Kansas State.
- WVU has outscored those teams by a total of 21 points after halftime. This includes strong second-half performances in wins over Clemson, UAB and Kansas State.
That’s a 30-point difference between the first and second halves of games against top competition. It means the Mountaineers get stronger as the game goes on, while wearing down opposing teams.
By comparison, in the seven games played this season against non-Power 5 teams that are also not featured in the top 60 of the NET:
- WVU has outscored those teams by 37 points in the first half.
- WVU has outscored those teams by 70 points in the second half.
That’s a point differential of 33 points between the two halves, signifying, once again, that West Virginia is a stronger team after halftime.
Two games into Big 12 Conference play, and the same trend is true.
West Virginia has been outscored by a combined 32 points in the first half, but has outscored Texas and K-State by a combined 20 points after halftime.
“It can’t be all in one play. So, it’s like Gabe taking a charge, and then we come down and then we get two more points. And then Keddy getting a steal,” senior shooting guard Sean McNeil said following his 26-point performance against the Wildcats. “There’s not a 14-point play. So it’s just trying to get multiple stops in a row to give yourself a chance in the ballgame.”
The Mountaineers leading scorer agreed that comebacks begin on the defensive end.
“You got to get stops,” said Taz Sherman. “That’s where it starts off first.”
Sherman added that as one of the leaders of this team, he takes it upon himself to not let other players hang their head when WVU is trailing.
There have been a number of different halftime speeches in the West Virginia locker room this season, but ultimately the messages have boiled down to executing better in the second half.
“At halftime, we were like, ‘Let’s calm ourselves down. Get into our offense. play better defense, locate shooters. Get back in transition. Run on transition, too. And then secure the rebound, secure the defensive possession,’” Sherman said.
West Virginia did get back on defense better in the second half, limiting K-State to just two points off of turnovers. The Mountaineers also held a rebounding advantage, and limited the Wildcats to just four 3-pointers in the second half. They had allowed nine 3-pointers prior to halftime.
WVU also drew ten fouls after the intermission, including multiple charging violations against KSU that helped swing momentum in the Mountaineers’ favor.
Saturday was just the latest example of the second-half-turnaround abilities that this WVU team possesses.