MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia's recent streak of success is starting to make up for a terrible start to the Big 12 schedule.
Kedrian Johnson tied a career high with 22 points, and West Virginia held off No. 11 Iowa State 76-71 on Wednesday night.
The Mountaineers (15-9, 4-7 Big 12) have won five of seven to get their season going in the right direction after they dropped five in a row in January. Three of those recent wins have come over ranked opponents.
“We dug ourselves a hole, and so we're trying to climb out of it,” coach Bob Huggins said. “I think that's a big part of our competitiveness now. I think that's a big part of why we're playing so much harder than what we played before. We're trying to get out of that hole. And we've made strides.
"Once you get close to getting out of the hole, you sure as heck don't want to fall back in it.”
Iowa State (16-7, 7-4) missed a chance to climb into a first-place tie with No. 5 Texas, which lost at Kansas on Monday night.
The difference Wednesday came at the free throw line, where Iowa State was outscored 26-19.
“We knew it was going to be a hard, tough game that we don't have very much margin for error,” Iowa State coach T.J. Otzelberger said.
Iowa State trailed for most of the game. Jaren Holmes made the Cyclones' only field goal in the final five minutes, a bank shot that put Iowa State ahead 71-70 with 1:28 remaining. But Iowa State didn't score again.
West Virginia’s Joe Toussaint made four free throws over the final 1:07. He also sprinted down court to contest a layup that Iowa State’s Caleb Grill missed on the fast break with 12 seconds left. Toussaint also stepped in front of Holmes and took an offensive charge with 4.5 seconds to go.
“That was a big play, taking a charge in the end,” Johnson said of Toussaint, an Iowa transfer. “I just think his presence is big for us on the court on the defensive end and on the offensive end.”
Emmitt Matthews, who had a season-high 20 points for the Mountaineers, made two free throws for the final margin.
Holmes led the Cyclones with 18 points. Freshman Tamin Lipsey had a season-high 16 points and Grill added 13.
Coming off a big home win over No. 9 Kansas, Iowa State committed eight early turnovers and trailed by as many as 15 points against the Mountaineers in the first half.
West Virginia’s Erik Stevenson had to be helped off the court after getting hit in the head late in the first half. When he returned early in the second half, he leaped to save the ball from going out of bounds, was fouled at the other end of the court and made two free throws. Stevenson finished with nine points on 1-of-6 shooting after scoring career highs of 31 and 34 points in his two previous home games.
“Seeing Erik go down, he's a big part of our scoring,” Johnson said. "I feel like some of us needed to step up and help him with that since he was hurt. I think me and Emmitt did that effectively tonight."
Iowa State: The Cyclones have lost five straight games on the road.
“Every night out, we know how good our league is,” Otzelberger said. "I felt like we could have been better pressuring the basketball. There was times I would have liked us to have better composure. But at the same time, when you’re going on the road, you have to play your best game.”
West Virginia: The Mountaineers got another statement win they sorely needed to build a possible NCAA Tournament resume. West Virginia has beaten Iowa State in seven of their last eight meetings.
Iowa State: Hosts Oklahoma State on Saturday. The Cowboys beat the Cyclones 61-59 on Jan. 21 in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
West Virginia: Plays at Texas on Saturday. The Longhorns won the earlier meeting 69-61 in Morgantown.
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