No. 24 West Virginia battles Kansas State in Big 12 opener

The No. 24 West Virginia men’s basketball hit the road to face the Kansas State Wildcats in its Big 12 conference opener in Manhattan, Kansas, on Saturday.

West Virginia (10-2) finished non-conference play on a four-game winning streak after it fell to Xavier on Dec. 3 in Cincinnati. For the past couple of games, the Mountaineers have been without one of their key veteran players, Emmitt Matthews Jr.

Matthews injured his knee against UAB on Dec. 10.

Head coach Bob Huggins announced on Dec. 29 that Matthews would make his return to the starting lineup.

“He’s going to play,” Huggins said at his press conference. “He’s ready to go.”

Matthews, of course, began his career with the Mountaineers before transferring after the 2020-21 season to go to Washington. This season, Matthews is third on the team in scoring with 10.8 points per game. In 10 games, Matthews is averaging 30 minutes on the court.

Transfers have been key for West Virginia this year with the top four scorers on the team joining the program from other schools in the offseason. Guard Erik Stevenson has been a significant addition to the Mountaineers, scoring 14.5 points per game along with three rebounds and two assists.

Forward Tre Mitchell is averaging 12.8 points, 4.7 rebounds and two assists per game as well. Guard Joe Toussaint rounds out the top four with 10.8 points per game.

West Virginia’s game against Kansas State (11-1) on New Year’s Eve will be its first in nine days after it defeated Stony Brook, 75-64, on Dec. 22.

Under first-year head coach, Jerome Tang, the Wildcats are just three wins shy from their overall win total last season. Kansas State’s only loss was a 12-point loss to Butler in the Big East-Big 12 Battle in November. Since then, Kansas State has rattled off five-straight wins.

Leading the way in scoring for Kansas State is forward Keyontae Johnson. Johnson averages 17.7 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. Johnson is averaging his most points in a game since the 2020-21 season when he played at Florida.

That season was cut short for Johnson after just four games when Johnson collapsed on the court during a game against Florida State.

The Wildcats have two other players who average double-digits in scoring. Markquis Nowell is averaging 13.7 points per game and Nae’Qwan Tomlin is averaging 11.7 points per game.

West Virginia defeated Kansas State in the last meeting during the Big 12 Conference Tournament in March. In the last five regular season meetings between the schools, West Virginia has won four.

Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. (EST) on ESPN+.

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