No. 2 Mountaineers Suffer First Loss In 16 Games At Texas Tech
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Bob Huggins has been known to press the psychological button of players, and he took that approach again following No. 2 West Virginia’s loss at No. 8 Texas Tech.
“We have guys with inflated self-worth,” Huggins said after the 72-71 setback. “They think they are better than they are. We are all in this together. If you aren’t in it with us, go do something else. We collectively have a lot of work to do and a lot of it is our preparing. We aren’t the same guys we were. That No. 2 hit and we have different guys.”
Which might be a touch heavy-handed in the verbiage, but right on in the general sentiment. Huggins said he didn’t play Teddy Allen significant minutes because of the forward’s attitude. The same was true at times for Wes Harris and Sags Konate at times this season. There doesn’t appear to be even a significant team issue, much less a massive one. This was simply Huggins’ way of sending a warning shot over the proverbial bow before the Mountaineers sink any further.
As Huggins said, this one was coming. WVU (15-2, 4-1) racked up the nation’s longest wining streak in a variety of ways, winning with rebounding or shooting, free throws or defense, with halfcourt execution and full court fury. They’ve survived off nights from Jevon Carter, gotten major contributions from younger players like Allen and Harris, or Chase Harler, Sags Konate and Beetle Bolden, and somehow emerged on the left side of the ledger the last 15 outings even without among the best small forwards in the Big 12 in Esa Ahmad.
Odds were, a loss was going to occur in a stretch in which WVU plays four of five games versus Top 20 teams. It just happened to be in west Texas, where the whistles and a mundane shooting performance were the difference in a one-point road loss against a Top 10 opponent. The Mountaineers were in foul trouble from the get-go in both halves, and the result was a steady series of trips to the line for the Red Raiders, who hit 24-of-28 free throws.
That’s an 85.7 percent clip from a team which entered shooting just 68 percent from the stripe, and the second-most makes of any West Virginia foe this season behind Oklahoma State’s 25. The foul differential is noticeable at 27-19, and it was greater than that for the majority of the game. In the end, those issues and a 23-of-59 effort from the field – including 4-of-13 from three-point range in the second half – doomed the Mountaineers to their first loss in 65 days.
“I think the free throw disparity,” Huggins said of his main take from the stat sheet. “They got to the free throw line and we didn’t. Look at the numbers: 13 turnovers apiece, we outrebound them by four. They are 24-of-28 and we are 14-for-19.”
It also hurt that Texas Tech shot right at 50 percent, going 22-of-44 from the floor. The Raiders were even better than that in the second half, hitting 14-of-24 (58.3 percent), including seven in a row in a late rally that saw West Virginia’s 11-point lead with 12:58 to play evaporate.
“I don’t know how anybody can shoot 50 percent,” Huggins said. “It was coming. It was a matter of time. They beat us off the dribble and we didn’t guard the ball screen. They did a better job than we did. In today’s game that’s all there is. That’s what everybody does because that’s what you can get to the free throw line doing, ball screening and driving to the rim.
“I don’t know how you are supposed to play aggressively when Lamont West has three. Sags has four, Wes has four, Carter has four, Dax has five and Beetle has four. Those are our guys, the guys we play. Esa (Ahmad) is the only guy who played that didn’t accumulate a bunch of fouls. On the road you can’t foul. I don’t know what to say. We couldn’t do what we do because I wouldn’t have anybody left. We put Wes in and he gets two fouls. We put Beetle in and he gets two fouls in two minutes. They are off ball fouls.”
So the school’s longest winning streak in 29 years comes to a close by the literal slimmest of margins. West Virginia has a chance to start another one one at 9 p.m. Monday, when the Mountaineers play host to yet another ranked opponent in No. 12 Kansas (14-3, 4-1), a 73-72 winner over rival Kansas State on Saturday. The victory, combined with WVU’s loss, creates a four-way tie atop the Big 12 between the Mountaineers, Jayhawks, Red Raiders and Oklahoma.