Monday's game between No. 13 Kansas State and West Virginia was never in doubt, yet it continued to drag on into the night. With the sound of each whistle and foul signaled, the players and coaches became restless and the less than capacity crowd at Bramlage Coliseum was quick to follow suit.
The play was physical and the pace was noticeably frustrating. And when it finally ended, the Wildcats walked off the court with a 71-61 victory.
"It was a hard fought win, very physical game," K-State coach Bruce Weber said. "Coach (Bob) Huggins' teams play great defense. They're very physical and try to disrupt you and we take a lot of pride in our defense.
"It was a very hard game to officiate. I know people got upset. I got upset a little bit. But I would not take their job for anything. That was a hard game. I thought they managed it pretty well for the most part."
The game was far from pretty, too. The two teams combined for 32 turnovers were whistled for 49 total fouls, including two technical fouls on the Mountaineers. However, it was the end result that mattered and K-State, 21-5 overall and 10-3 in Big 12 play, kept its poise to build a half-game lead at the top of the conference standings and spoil Bob Huggins' return to the Little Apple since he coached the Wildcats during the 2006-07 campaign.
"I really liked this place. I liked the people," Huggins said of his return. "The people have been wonderful. It's nice to see people that you haven't seen in awhile, but at the end of the day it's a business trip. We're supposed to win and we didn't."
Junior Will Spradling paced five K-State players in double figures by tying a career-high 19 points on 5-of-9 shooting and a perfect 7-of-7 from the charity stripe.
"We did a terrible job guarding him," Huggins said. "We had freshmen on him and they didn't do a very good job. He's a good player and if you give him open shots, he's going to make them. We gave him open shots and he made them."
As of late, the Wildcats have had different players come up big and Monday was Spradling's night. But K-State also got solid production across the board and the team shot 50 percent for the game. Sophomore point guard Angel Rodriguez had 11 points and seven assists, leading scorer Rodney McGruder added 10 and Nino Williams and Thomas Gipson came off the bench to score 13 and 11, respectively.
"We have good balance and five guys in double figures is really positive," Weber noted. "I think that's how our team has evolved. We've learned that if you take Rod away, there's still some other people that can make some plays."
That was clear in the first few minutes of the contest. After West Virginia's Deniz Kilicli, who had a team-high 16 points, scored the game's opening basket, it was all K-State. In fact, the Mountaineers, 13-13 and 6-7, never led again. The Wildcats got two early 3-pointers by Spradling and Shane Southwell to take an early 6-2 lead. Then following a Dominique Rutledge basket, K-State went on a 12-0 run and went into halftime with a 33-20 advantage.
In the second half, K-State continued its dominant play. The Wildcats opened the final period on a quick 10-2 run before the Mountaineers answered with a 7-0 run of their own to cut the lead to 43-29. But once Rodriguez ended the run with a 3-pointer, the game got more physical.
The two teams combined for 30 fouls in the second half. Huggins received a technical foul with 16 minutes, 25 seconds to play and West Virginia's leading scorer, Eron Harris, fouled out on a technical foul against Spradling minutes later that gave K-State four free throws from Spradling and the ball. And on the ensuing possession, Rodriguez got an old fashioned three-point play to put the Wildcats up 61-40 and they never looked back.
"We had little runs and they probably had some little runs and then it seemed to get disrupted," Weber said. "It was a very physical game. I'm pleased our kids kept their poise for the most part."
In the end, winning is all that matters and K-State was able to do just that despite the foul count and the teams combining to shoot 53 foul shots - K-State was 19-of-23 and West Virginia was 23-30.
"You just got to take it, shut up, go keep playing and go find a way to win," Weber added. "That's what we did."
The Wildcats have an extended break before traveling to Austin, Tex. to take on the new-look Longhorns on Saturday night.