LAWRENCE, Kan.: Christian Braun hit six 3-pointers and had 22 points, Jalen Wilson hit four 3s and scored 17, and No. 3 Kansas shrugged off a mid-game malaise before cruising past seventh-ranked West Virginia 79-65 on Tuesday night.
Marcus Garrett finished with 15 points, Ochai Agbaji had 11 points and 10 rebounds, and David McCormack added 10 points and 11 boards as the Jayhawks (8-1, 2-0 Big 12) won their fifth straight against the Mountaineers (6-2, 1-1).
Kansas trailed by a point at halftime before Braun and Wilson heated up in the second half, carrying the Jayhawks to their eighth consecutive victory overall. Their lone loss came in the opener against top-ranked Gonzaga, and their win streak has included victories over No. 20 Kentucky on a neutral floor, eighth-ranked Creighton and No. 14 Texas Tech on the road.
Sean McNeil made six 3-pointers and scored 24 points to lead West Virginia, though almost all of his production came in the first half, when the outcome was still hanging in the balance. Miles McBride added 19 points but the bruising duo of Oscar Tschiebwe and Derek Culver was held to a combined 11 points and 12 rebounds.
West Virginia, enjoying its highest ranking in two years, has lost nine of its last 10 against the Jayhawks and has never beaten them in nine tries in Allen Fieldhouse.
Kansas controlled the first half from the opening minute, when it took the lead, until the last, when McNeil hit a tightly guarded 3-pointer at the buzzer to cap a torrid half and give the Mountaineers a 36-35 advantage at the break.
That last shot made McNeil 7 of 7 from the field, 6 of 6 from behind the arc, and gave the junior forward 20 first-half points four more than his career high. The rest of his teammates combined were 6 of 24 from the field and 1 of 6 from the 3-point line.
McNeil’s hot hand must have cooled in the locker room, though. He missed his first couple of shots of the second half, including an air-balled 3-pointer that he claimed to no avail was tipped by one of the Jayhawks.
Kansas capitalized on the Mountaineers’ sudden cold streak.
Braun buried his fourth 3 with about 15 minutes to go, setting off a 14-3 charge that turned a two-point advantage into a 60-47 lead the biggest of the game. Wilson did most of the damage with a trio of 3s, but McCormack’s relentless attack on the glass against one of the nation’s best rebounding teams helped to keep possessions alive.
If Wilson’s barrage staggered the Mountaineers, Braun delivered the knockout blow. He added two more 3-pointers on consecutive trips down the floor, extending the Jayhawks’ lead to 66-51 with just over eight minutes to play, and ignited roughly 2,500 fans that were allowed to attend their first home Big 12 game of the season.
West Virginia may point to its inability to guard the 3-point arc, where Kansas hit 16 3-pointers, as the biggest reason for the loss. But the Mountaineers lost the rebounding battle, something that rarely happens, and the Jayhawks managed to match them nearly point-for-point in the paint.
Kansas was 9 of 19 from beyond the arc in the second half, when it pulled away. Braun hit most of the long-range shots, but he also was a major facilitator he contributed seven assists, too.
The Mountaineers return home to face Buffalo on Dec. 29 before back-to-back road games against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
The Jayhawks have nearly two weeks off before facing Texas on Jan. 2 at Allen Fieldhouse.
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