MANHATTAN — Barry Brown had a message for his Kansas State teammates as they exited the locker room at halftime, but little did he know it would prove prophetic.
With K-State trailing West Virginia by 15 points at the break, he was simply trying to light a fire under the Wildcats, and did he ever.
Not only did they respond, but did so in historic fashion, rallying from a 21-point deficit to knock off the Mountaineers, 71-69, Wednesday night at Bramlage Coliseum. It was the biggest comeback victory in school history.
“I remember we came out at halftime and Barry said to all of us, ‘If you don’t think we can win, don’t even get in the game and step on the court,’ ” Mike McGuirl said of Brown’s remarks. “That’s the sort of mentality we needed because we should have come out at half expecting we could win it and we did.”
K-State relied again on its trademark defense, forcing 17 turnovers, but more surprisingly embarked on a 50-point second-half scoring binge that seemingly came out of nowhere. With Brown and McGuirl leading the way, the Wildcats shot 62 percent and knocked down 7 of 11 3-point attempts after the break.
Brown scored 20 of his game-high 29 points in the second half, including the game-winner on a driving layup with 28 seconds left, and McGuirl came off the bench for a career-high 18 points, 15 after intermission.
“To win special games like that, crazy games like that, you’ve got to have special performances and (Brown and McGuirl) definitely did,” said K-State coach Bruce Weber, whose Wildcats improved to 11-4 overall and 1-2 in the Big 12 to avoid the league cellar. “But Kam (Stokes) was good — scored, we watched his minutes, six assists, no turnovers.
“Xavier (Sneed) the second half got us going a little bit, so it was a good team effort, no doubt.”
The Wildcats never led until Sneed knocked down a corner 3-pointer and was fouled with 2:30 left. His free throw made it 68-66.
But West Virginia (8-7, 0-3) tied it on a Lamont West basket, then went up, 69-68, at the 1:33 mark when West hit the second of two free throws.
K-State missed two shots to take the lead, but with 47 seconds on the clock they forced a turnover, setting up Brown’s winning play.
“I beat my man and I think Levi (Stockard) might have stepped up and I just tried to absorb the contact, got up strong and just go up and finish, and I was able to do that,” Brown said of his final straight-line drive to the basket.
West Virginia then went to Derek Culver in the lane, but he missed and Sneed pulled down the rebound. Sneed hit the first of two free throws with three seconds on the clock and the Mountaineers never got off a final shot.
“We were 14 for 23 from the foul line,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “They made shots and we didn’t.”
McGuirl, whose previous season high was six points, teamed with Brown to spark a 17-point run early in the second half that got the Wildcats back in the game. West Virginia had scored the first six points of the half to lead 42-21 on a Culver basket with 18:49 left when back-to-back 3-pointers from Stokes and McGuirl triggered the spurt.
In addition to Brown and McGuirl, K-State got 12 points from Stokes and 10 from Sneed, eight in the second half.
Sneed also had a team-high six rebounds with five assists and Stokes six assists without a turnover.
West scored 21 points and Culver 17 to lead West Virginia, the only team left without a Big 12 victory. The Mountaineers outrebounded K-State 37-23 with Culver grabbing 12.
K-State goes on the road Saturday for an 11 a.m. game at Iowa State.
West Virginia used a 15-0 run, holding K-State scoreless for over seven minutes, on the way to a 36-21 halftime advantage.
K-State shot 29.2 percent from the field in the half and made just 2 of 12 3-point attempts. The Wildcats also did not create any second-chance opportunities grabbing just one offensive rebound as West Virginia controlled the boards, 21-11.
For West Virginia, which shot 44 percent in the period, got 11 points from West and eight each from Haley and Culver. Brown had nine points and Stokes five at the break to lead K-State.