The Mountaineers shot 46.2 percent from the field -- and needed every shot they could make thanks to a poor rebounding performance -- and utilized a stifling 1-3-1 zone defense down the stretch to hold off Texas 60-58 on Monday at the WVU Coliseum.
West Virginia (11-11, 4-5 Big 12) swept the regular season series with the Longhorns. On the heels of a Saturday win at Texas Tech, the hosts recorded their first back-to-back wins since registering three consecutive victories over Oakland, Radford and Eastern Kentucky from Dec. 19 to Dec. 30.
It had WVU coach Bob Huggins again insisting the NCAA Tournament still isn’t out of reach for his team.
“You guys have to win games,” Huggins said. “The formula is pretty simple: you have to win.”
The Mountaineers did so on Monday, but they didn’t make it easy. After holding a lead of 11 points on four separate occasions in the second half, WVU allowed Texas to go on a 16-3 run over 6:03 to take a 49-47 lead.
While WVU’s defense was typically stout, the Longhorns’ Javan Felix had his way during the visitors’ surge. The guard scored 10 of UT’s 16 points in that span of time, hitting jumpers and getting to the foul line almost at will.
“Their point guard played great,” Huggins said. “He made some hard shots, and we got on the side of him. We didn’t do a very good job [guarding] the screen. We tried to get under and keep him in front of us, but we didn’t do a very good job of that. We tried to hard-hedge it, and we didn’t do a very good job of that. So we ended up doubling.”
But the damage was already done, and the game hung in the balance in the final minutes. It was Deniz Kilicli who started to pull the Mountaineers out of the doldrums, scoring with 6:31 left to put West Virginia ahead again at 51-49. It was the team’s first field goal by anyone other than Jabarie Hinds in 11:49 of action.
Player of the Game
The teams started to trade scores, and WVU went to the final media timeout with a tenuous 55-54 lead. But Kilicli gave his team breathing room again, scoring a runner while being fouled -- and sinking the bonus free throw -- to push the lead to four points.
“I think he was terrific,” Huggins said of Kilicli. “He was so much more active. He does a great job of sealing people, and we don’t do a great job of getting him the ball. I think the last two games were the best two all-around games Deniz has played. He has had a lot of energy.
“He was terrific in practice yesterday. He actually dove out of bounds, which you don’t see Deniz doing a lot ... He sprained his ankle at Texas Tech [on Saturday] and he worked really hard at rehabbing it. He has been terrific.”
On the other end, West Virginia utilized its 1-3-1 zone defense to great effect. Texas took bad shot after bad shot down the stretch, as it simply could not find anything other than contested 3-pointers when it mattered most. None of those shots found the net.
But WVU helped the visitors with a pair of fouls -- both committed while Texas’ Sheldon McClellan was attempting a trifecta. McClellan made a pair with 11.4 seconds left to get back within 59-56, and he sank two more with 0.7 seconds to go to make it 60-58.
The Longhorns (10-12, 2-7) called timeout, and McClellan intentionally missed the final free throw try. But the Mountaineers’ Aaric Murray was there to collect the rebound as the clock expired.
“We knew that they were going to go to the 1-3-1, and we talked about that at a timeout,” said Texas coach Rick Barnes. “We came out but didn’t execute what we wanted to do.”
Defensive proficiency and shooting accuracy were key to West Virginia’s early surge. The Mountaineers came out sluggish, falling behind 17-10 in the opening minutes. But a 17-3 run changed the complexion of the game entirely, with Eron Harris and Terry Henderson making 3-pointers to stretch the Longhorns’ defense.
At halftime, WVU held a 32-25 lead that would quickly grow to 11 points in the second half. Efficiency was key for the hosts, as they made 18 of their 39 shots from the field overall -- and, more importantly, got to the foul line 29 times, making 20 of those tries.
Both were critical successes for West Virginia, which was badly outrebounded. Indeed, Monday’s game was only the fourth time since 1982 that WVU has shot fewer than 40 times from the field. Oddly enough, all four games have ended in wins for the Mountaineers.
“We shot better today,” Huggins said. “We didn’t shoot great, but we shot a lot better.”
For WVU, Kilicli’s 14 points led the way. Hinds contributed another 14, and Harris scored 13.
McClellan led Texas with 14 points. Felix finished with 12, and Ioannis Papapetrou and Julien Lewis each scored 10.