By Mickey Furfari
For The Register-Herald
The West Virginia University men’s basketball team couldn’t have picked a better time for its biggest bounce-back of this season.
That hard-fought 81-71 triumph against Kansas State before a crowd of 10,121 fans at the WVU Coliseum — thanks mostly to Juwan Staten’s 35-point outmost — avenged the Mountaineers’ worst defeat of the year.
And that had come at the hands of those same K- State Wildcats on Jan. 18 by 78-56 in Manhattan, Kan.
So, counting the 66-64 win at Baylor on Jan. 28, that victory puts West Virginia in position for what could be only its second set of three consective wins in conference play since joining the Big 12 in 2012.
The first such successive stint came a year ago against Texas Tech, Texas and TCU on Feb. 2,4 and 9, respectively, in 2013.
WVU’s opportunity now for a third straight win comes up Wednesday when Oklahoma (17-5, 6-3 Big 12) visits the Coliseum. Tip-off time is 7 p.m.
The Sooners are nationally ranked and a large crowd is expected.
Staten, who scored 23 of his career-high 35 points in the decisive second half, was phenomenal at the foul line.
He cashed an unusually high 18 of 21 free throws. His 18 conversions tied the all-time school record set by Rod Thorn against George Washington in 1963.
That number by Staten of 18 made the most damaging difference in the contest’s outcome. In all, the Mountaineers (13-9, 5-4 Big 12) made 29 of 37 foul shots (78.4 percent).
Kansas State made only 8 of 19 for an unusually low number of free throws in both attempts and conversions (42.1 percentage).
Rebounding was comparatively very close. WVU had 33 to 36 by the Wildcats, who now are 15-7 overall and 5-4 in the conference.
Staten, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound guard, is a junior who transferred from Dayton in June 2011. He has been an outstanding point guard in his second season as a leader for WVU.
But he obviously reached a peak pitch in production in what probably is the most significant and most timely win since the school joined the Big 12.
Just how this young team fares the remainder of 2013-14 could determine its chances of a postseason bid.
Besides topping all scores by far, Staten was 8-of-13 sharp from the field, pulled down four rebounds, dished out four assists, made only two turnovers and he played 38 of the 40 minutes.
“I just wanted to win,” Staten said after the game. “It felt great!
“It was a packed house. Last year we had so many games where people were leaving at halftime.
“They were here and cheering for us today.
It gave us a lot of motivation.”
WVU coach Bob Huggins obviously was happy.
He said afterward, “You have to win games like this sometimes. You’ve got to win some when some people don’t play their best and someone else has to step up.
“Obviously, Juwan Staten did that.”
For his previous 21 games this season, Staten averaged 17.2 points per contest. He made 52.2 percent of his shots from the field and 101 of 144 free throws (70.1 percent).