West Virginia made just 12 of 22 free throws (55 percent), and it proved costly in a 65-64 loss to No. 18 Kansas State on Saturday.
"Every game is going to be close and you certainly cannot miss free throws," said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. "Then every call becomes a whole lot more important."
Coming off an overtime win at Texas, West Virginia could have used a win over Kansas State to improve its standing for a postseason berth. Instead, the Mountaineers fell to 0-3 this season against ranked teams. Both losses in their debut season in the league have come at home.
"I thought we competed for the most part," Huggins said. "The problem is we don't do it for a consistent period of time. Did all nine guys that played compete? Absolutely not. Most of them did. I thought we had every chance to win it."
Kansas State's Shane Southwell made two free throws with 21 seconds left, then blocked Gary Browne's layup attempt with 1 second to go to preserve the victory.
"We fought too hard for that game," Southwell said. "We just needed to find a way to win."
Southwell and Rodney McGruder both had 17 points for the Wildcats (13-2, 2-0 Big 12), which won its sixth straight game.
For Southwell, it was a career high and marked only
"He did a tremendous job of stepping up," McGruder said.
Jabarie Hinds had a career-high 15 points for West Virginia, (8-7, 1-2). Aaric Murray added 11 points and Terry Henderson scored 10.
The lead changed hands six times over the final eight minutes. After Southwell's free throws, West Virginia had two chances to retake the lead.
But Hinds missed a wild jumper from 16 feet with 12 seconds left. The Mountaineers got the rebound and called timeout.
Kansas State's Angel Rodriguez knocked the inbounds pass into the backcourt. Browne grabbed the loose ball, dribbled the length of the court and attempted a layup, which Southwell swatted away just before the final buzzer.
It was only the 6-foot-6 Southwell's third block of the season and his biggest so far.
"I know (Browne) likes to get a lot of body contact and everything, so I just gave him a little room," Southwell said. "And once he tried to get the body contact, I stepped back and then I used my length on him."
Both teams shot 51 percent from the floor for the game and Kansas State, which is averaging 41 rebounds per game, held a 28-27 advantage. It marked only the third time all season that West Virginia made at least half its shots.
Kansas State coach Bruce Weber shuffled his lineup down the stretch because four players had at least three fouls. But West Virginia couldn't capitalize from the free-throw line, making just 12 of 22 free throws.
The Mountaineers played without second-leading scorer Juwan Staten, who was benched in a disciplinary move by Huggins for the second straight game.
"He has to get on the same page as me or he is not going to play anymore," Huggins said.
Browne got his first start of the season in Staten's place and got a tough assignment—guarding McGruder, who was coming off a season-high 28 points in a Jan. 5 win over Oklahoma State.
McGruder, who finished 7 of 16 from the floor, has scored in double figures in every game during Kansas State's winning streak.
"I thought during the second half that Rodney got tired and he missed a couple (of shots)," Weber said. "You have to have other people make plays. We have eight guys that are pretty much eight starters, and they can all play."
After a first half in which Kansas State nearly the entire way, it was a streaky second half for both teams.
West Virginia went on an 8-0 run in the first two minutes after halftime, with Hinds' layup giving the Mountaineers their largest lead, 41-36.
Kansas State responded with 12 straight points—seven from McGruder—to go ahead 48-41, but the Wildcats couldn't put away the Mountaineers. Kansas State scored just one basket—on a goaltending call—over a stretch of nearly eight minutes.
Freshman Eron Harris put West Virginia ahead 64-63 lead with an off-balanced jumper from the baseline with 26 seconds left, and the Mountaineers quickly fouled Southwell, who made both free throws for the final margin.
"What was going through my mind was that this is something that you've been dreaming about as a kid," Southwell said. "But it's just free throws. You follow your routine and you're going to make them. Since I came to college, I've been waiting to be in moments like that, in big-time pressure situations."