“Game!” Texas guard Andrew Jones called out as his 3-point attempt arched high into the air with three seconds left Saturday afternoon at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin.
The Longhorns were trailing West Virginia 84-82 at the time, and a made three by Jones would almost certainly have given UT another buzzer-beating victory over the Mountaineers.
Jones knew what of he spoke, as he drained a 3-pointer in the final second at the WVU Coliseum on Jan. 9 to break the Mountaineers’ hearts that day, 72-70.
Again Jones rose up and fired for the win from behind the arc.
“He shot it, and he said ‘Game!’ When he did that, I knew he was going to miss,” smiled WVU junior forward Emmitt Matthews. “Not a lot of people can be that confident to call ‘Game!’ and make that shot in that situation.
“He is a helluva player,” added Matthews of Jones. “It looked good from where I was at, but it wasn’t.”
Jones’ miss wasn’t the end of the drama in Austin, though.
In an effort to secure the rebound, both Matthews and his teammate Kedrian Johnson knocked the ball away from each other, and it went out of bounds. After a review, the officials gave UT the ball under its own basket with 0.3 seconds remaining on the clock. It wasn’t enough time for a conventional shot, but it was enough for a tip that could have tied the game.
“We were trying to protect the rim,” Matthews explained of WVU’s defense on the final play. “We put Seny (Ndiaye, the Mountaineers’ 6-foot-10 freshman) in there, because we knew he would do a good job over the ball. Our big goal was to protect against the lob. Of course they had (Jericho) Sims, who has a 50-inch vertical at 7-foot, so it’s hard to keep the ball out of his hands when it is 15, 16 feet in the air.”
The high lob was able to find the fingertips of Sims, but a couple of Mountaineers, including sophomore guard Deuce McBride, were there to harass him, forcing a miss.
UT coach Shaka Smart wanted a foul on the Sims’ attempt, but no call was made, and West Virginia was left to celebrate its fifth straight Big 12 road win.
Asked about the final sequence, Deuce wouldn’t give up his secret.
“Did I foul him? They didn’t call it, so I guess I didn’t foul him,” grinned McBride.
With the win over the 12th-ranked Longhorns (13-6/7-5), No. 13 WVU improved to 15-6 overall and 8-4 in Big 12 play. Combined with a Feb. 9 victory at No. 7 Texas Tech, West Virginia now has two road wins over top 15 foes in the same season for the first time in school history
That West Virginia was even in position to win at the end in Austin took a minor miracle.
Texas was incredible offensively in the first half, hitting 21-of-30 field goal attempts (70%) and seven-of-12 3-point tries (58%) in the first 20 minutes, as it ran out to a 53-43 lead at the midway point.
The ‘Horns didn’t slow down coming out of the locker room in the second half either, drilling three quick 3-pointers – two by Courtney Ramey and one by Matt Coleman – to open up a 62-43 advantage with 18:18 left in the game.
WVU wasn’t ready to roll over, though. It had overcome similar deficits earlier in the season, erasing an 18-point second-half lead at Oklahoma on Jan. 2, though eventually the Sooners battled their way to a 75-71 victory. Two days later in Stillwater, the Mountaineers actually completed the comeback, fighting their way from 19 down at Oklahoma State to emerge with an 87-84 victory.
So, a 19-point hole wasn’t unfamiliar to WVU, nor was a comeback.
“Obviously giving up over 50 points in the first half is going to put you behind,” admitted McBride. “But we gutted it out. We came together and didn’t separate. When we come together, we’re a problem (for any opponent). I think that’s our continuing theme.”
Matthews noted that WVU isn’t a team that will give up.
“It doesn’t matter if we’re down 10, 20 or even 30,” stated the junior from Tacoma, Washington, who finished with a team-high seven rebounds. “They went up 18 (actually it was 19), and we came into a timeout, and Coach (Erik) Martin said, ‘We’re going to win this game. It will be one of the hardest things we do, but we’re going to win this game.’ We did just that. That’s the story of us. We’re a resilient bunch. We love basketball, and if we get down, we’re going to fight our way back.”
The Longhorns’ strong offensive performance was built on the back of Courtney Ramey. The junior guard, who scored 19 points but didn’t hit a three in UT’s win in Morgantown in January, nailed seven-of-eight 3-point attempts en route to a career-high 28 points Saturday in Austin.
A key for WVU down the stretch was getting Ramey to foul out with 2:26 left, just moments after he had given Texas an 82-81 lead on his career-best seventh – and as it would turn out, final – three.
West Virginia guard Taz Sherman drove into the lane and got Ramey off his feet and the Longhorn committed his fifth foul. Sherman hit the two subsequent free throws, and the Mountaineers would not trail again.
“The coaches recognized he had four fouls, and they did a great job of calling a play to get him in a tough situation,” said McBride of WVU’s design to get Ramey to foul out.
The Mountaineers countered Ramey’s 28 points by posting five players in double figures in the scoring column – McBride with 17, Sean McNeil with 16 (all in the second half after sitting most of the first half with early two fouls), Matthews with 14, Derek Culver with 14 and Sherman with 14.
With the win, West Virginia got a little payback for its heart-breaking loss to the Longhorns earlier in the season.
“The last time obviously things didn’t turn out how we wanted. I put that game on myself personally. No matter what the team said, missing two free throws to potentially seal the game, I took that personal,” said Matthews, a 77% free throw shooter who missed not one but two attempts at the foul line with 10 seconds left when WVU was holding a 70-69 lead on the ‘Horns in Morgantown last month. “So today I wanted to give it my all and make sure every time there was a loose ball, I was diving for it.”
That’s the type of effort it takes to overcome a big deficit. It’s an effort the Mountaineers have displayed numerous times this season.
“I think it’s just something that’s in our culture, in our DNA here, to never quit no matter how much we get down,” stated McBride.