West Virginia’s Esa Ahmad made the second of two free throws with 20.2 seconds left, and an off-balance 3-pointer by Kansas State’s Kamau Stokes was off at the buzzer, allowing the No. 11 Mountaineers to escape with a 51-50 victory in the Big 12 Tournament semifinals Friday night.
Tarik Phillip tied the game for the Mountaineers (26-7) with a 3-pointer with 1:41 left, and the Wildcats (20-13) came up empty at the other end. Ahmad was fouled during a mad scramble for a rebound moments later, and he clanked his first free throw before making his second.
The Wildcats brought the ball up court and called timeout with 10.2 seconds left.
After they inbounded the ball to Stokes, he headed across to the right wing, where he inexplicably picked up his dribble. Tightly guarded as time ran out, he heaved a shot that hit off the rim.
That gave the Mountaineers a spot in Saturday night’s title game against No. 23 Iowa State.
Ahmad finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds, and Phillip had 13 points to help the Mountaineers reach the final for the second straight year. They lost to Kansas last year.
They haven’t won a conference tournament since the Big East in 2010.
Wesley Iwundu had 13 points and Stokes finished with 10 for the Wildcats, who can only hope their quarterfinal win over No. 9 Baylor will be enough to get them into the NCAA Tournament.
The way the first half played out was reflected on the benches.
The Wildcats were hustling up and down the floor, skinning knees while diving for loose balls and then laughing about it afterward. And on the sideline, coach Bruce Weber was hopping up and down like a mad man, a fountain of encouragement in the din of an arena packed with Kansas State fans.
Meanwhile, the Mountaineers were openly frustrated every time a shot clanked off the iron or a whistle blew for a foul. And on their sideline, coach Bob Huggins spent the half ripping into everyone from his players to the officials, often pointing out to them the foul disparity.
The Wildcats went to the line 10 times in the first half. West Virginia never did.
The sum of all that was a first half dominated by the Kansas State defense. It held West Virginia to 6-for-32 shooting and was the biggest reason the Wildcats led 25-16 at the break.
The Wildcats kept the Mountaineers at arm’s length most of the second half, but the Press Virginia defense finally started to force a couple turnovers. And when Kansas State began to struggle to get open looks, the Mountaineers seized an opening and clawed back to tie the game.
Then their veteran poise allowed them to make the plays that mattered in the final minute.
Kansas State split with West Virginia in the regular season and went 2-1 against Baylor, so there are some marquee wins on the Wildcats’ NCAA Tournament resume. But they could have avoided a tense wait for their fate had they managed to put this one away.
West Virginia survived despite a lousy performance from star guard Jevon Carter, who went 1 for 12 from the field and 1 for 7 from beyond the arc. The Mountaineers also were dominated in the paint, even though they had a 44-35 rebounding advantage.
Kansas State heads west on I-70 back to Manhattan to await its NCAA Tournament fate.
West Virginia gets ready for the Cyclones on Saturday night.
KANSAS ST. (20-13): Wade 3-7 1-2 7, Johnson 1-2 1-2 3, Iwundu 4-9 3-3 13, Stokes 3-10 2-4 10, Brown 4-12 0-1 9, Maurice 2-2 0-2 4, Sneed 0-2 0-0 0, Ervin 1-2 2-2 4. Totals 18-46 9-16 50.
WEST VIRGINIA (26-7): Adrian 2-9 0-0 5, Macon 3-8 0-0 6, Ahmad 4-10 5-7 15, Miles 0-4 0-0 0, Carter 1-12 2-2 5, West 1-3 0-0 3, Watkins 0-0 1-2 1, Konate 0-1 0-0 0, Bender 0-0 0-0 0, Myers 0-3 0-0 0, Bolden 1-2 0-0 3, Phillip 4-8 2-4 13. Totals 16-60 10-15 51.
Halftime—Kansas St. 25-16. 3-Point Goals—Kansas St. 5-21 (Iwundu 2-4, Stokes 2-7, Brown 1-4, Sneed 0-2, Wade 0-4), West Virginia 9-28 (Phillip 3-6, Ahmad 2-3, Bolden 1-2, West 1-3, Adrian 1-4, Carter 1-7, Myers 0-1, Miles 0-2). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Kansas St. 33 (Ervin, Wade, Johnson 6), West Virginia 41 (Macon, Ahmad 10). Assists—Kansas St. 10 (Stokes 3), West Virginia 11 (Carter 6). Total Fouls—Kansas St. 15, West Virginia 20.