On this occasion, it was WVU that made the decisive plays when it counted, going on an 18-4 run in the waning minutes to put the finishing touches on a 77-61 victory over Texas Tech.
The visitors needed that late burst, which came immediately on the heels of a Red Raiders push. Tech held the Mountaineers to only one field goal over a span of more than seven minutes, and a Josh Gray layup narrowed WVU’s lead to 59-55 with 6:27 to play.
But things immediately shifted, as Eron Harris and Gary Browne each hit a 3-pointer -- the team’s final two of 10 made trifectas -- to kick-start the run that put the game out of reach entirely.
On the other end of the floor, coach Bob Huggins utilized a point-drop zone defense that befuddled the Red Raiders down the stretch.
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“We were having a hard time with penetration. We were having a hard time giving up second shots,” Huggins told the Mountaineer Sports Network. “The point-drop slowed them down. Really, it slowed them down. They were trying to figure out what we were doing, and nobody can figure it out, because we have no idea what we’re doing. So it’s hard to figure out.”
While WVU got some timely defense down the stretch, it was its shot-making ability that keyed a strong start and helped keep Texas Tech at bay on multiple occasions in the second half.
The Mountaineers (10-11, 3-5 Big 12) shot 56.5 percent from the field overall, their sixth-best shooting performance in terms of accuracy in Huggins’ six seasons in Morgantown. Their 10-of-18 showing from 3-point range (55.6 percent) was the program’s best since a Feb. 6, 2010 win over St. John’s.
That had to come as a shock to Texas Tech, which had prepared for a team that ranked among the nation’s worst in field goal percentage coming into the game. The Red Raiders (9-10, 2-6) trailed 16-4 through the first eight minutes of action, and it appeared WVU might cruise.
But turnovers ruined any chance of that happening, and by halftime, the lead was down to 34-31. It was an ugly half for both teams, as each had committed 12 turnovers by the intermission, and Tech offset WVU’s hot shooting by getting to the free throw line 11 times in the half, making nine of those attempts.
“We passed the ball. It wasn’t a dribbling exhibition,” Huggins said of the reasons for the better shooting. “We passed it and made cuts. I thought the second half, we still did a couple bonehead things, but it wasn’t like the first half. The first half could have been 30-2 if we just don’t throw the ball away. We threw it away twice to get them back in it ... Those are the kinds of things we’ve got to stop doing.”
Still, Huggins was rightly encouraged by West Virginia’s offensive balance.
Six players scored nine points or more for the visitors, led by Harris, who had 18, including a trio of 3-pointers. Browne added 11 points, while a pair of players who came off the bench -- Aaric Murray and Juwan Staten -- added 12 and 11 more, respectively.
Deniz Kilicli had one of his better all-around games of the season, finishing with nine points on 3-of-5 shooting. He added two rebounds, two assists, two blocks and a steal, but there was some concern about his health after the game.
“I hope Deniz’s ankle is OK,” Huggins said. “I thought he gave us big-time effort today. Great energy.”
For the Red Raiders, Ty Nurse scored 14 points. Sixth-man Jaye Crockett added 13, but was held quiet in the second half. Gray and Jordan Tolbert each contributed 10 more for Texas Tech.