MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — Emmitt Matthews’ last regular-season home game at West Virginia was even better than he had envisioned.
Matthews played for Washington a year ago before returning to West Virginia, where he had spent his first three seasons. When Washington’s Senior Day ceremony was held almost a year ago to the day, Matthews said he closed his eyes and imagined being back in Morgantown.
On Saturday his eyes were wide open and his smile went from ear to ear as he and five other seniors walked onto the court with loved ones during pregame introductions. And their energy eventually translated into one of their best efforts of the season.
Matthews, Erik Stevenson and Kedrian Johnson led an offensive onslaught in their home finale Saturday and West Virginia gave its NCAA Tournament hopes a big boost with an 89-81 victory over No. 11 Kansas State.
Matthews, who played all 40 minutes, then joined Stevenson, Johnson and West Virginia’s other seniors to sing John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” one last time in their own arena before going into the student section to celebrate.
“This is everything I imagined and then some,” Matthews said.
Stevenson finished with 27 points, Johnson added 23, Matthews had 20 points and Tre Mitchell scored 14 for West Virginia (18-13, 7-11 Big 12), which has won three of four heading into the conference tournament.
“That was special, for sure,” said Stevenson, who made 11 of 22 field goal tries, including five 3-pointers, and has averaged nearly 25 points over his last five games. “I can tell you that basket gets bigger and bigger every time I make one. I’ve just got to credit my teammates for finding me.”
Before a sellout crowd, West Virginia rallied from 10 points down to take a 39-37 halftime lead and never trailed after that, shooting 58% (15 of 26) from the floor in the second half.
Kansas State (23-8, 11-7) was within 61-57 when Johnson blocked Markquis Nowell’s layup attempt, and Stevenson hit a 3-pointer at the other end of the court. Stevenson hit another 3 less than 2 minutes later for a 69-59 lead with 8:49 remaining.
Kansas State went scoreless over a nearly three-minute stretch and the Mountaineers padded their lead at the free-throw line, going 7 of 8 en route to their largest lead, 84-69, with 2:42 left.
“They played like seniors on Senior Night are supposed to play, so credit to them,” Kansas State coach Jerome Tang said. “What they were able to do, especially in the second half, we couldn’t guard them. They were really good.”
Kansas State saw its four-game winning streak snapped. Nowell and Keyontae Johnson each scored 24 points for the Wildcats and Cam Carter finished with 13.
Kansas State guard Desi Sills missed the game because he was attending a funeral. Tang said he’ll be back for the Big 12 tournament.
Kansas State could drop a few spots in the AP Top 25 poll.
Kansas State: The Wildcats scored the first eight points of the game but couldn’t keep the momentum going. Despite the loss, Kansas State capped its best regular season since 2018-19, when they went 24-7.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers had a 22-9 advantage at the free-throw line and forced 20 turnovers. West Virginia committed four turnovers in the second half after committing 12 before halftime.
“That was pretty much the focus at halftime was to stop turning the ball over,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “I think the majority of our turnovers led to their scoring in the first half.
”We’ve gotten a lot better. Our older guys have really stepped up.”
Both teams play in the Big 12 tournament that starts Wednesday in Kansas City, Missouri. The Wildcats have a first-round bye.
AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25
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