MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Texas hit only one 3-point shot in the second half in Saturday’s showdown with No. 14 West Virginia at the WVU Coliseum, and the No. 4 Longhorns held the lead for just 1.8 seconds of the final 29 minutes.
But UT made the shot and held the lead when it counted the most – at the end – lifting the ‘Horns to a 72-70 victory over the Mountaineers.
“Aww man, that was real tough,” said a downtrodden WVU sophomore guard Deuce McBride moments after walking off the floor. “To have the lead the whole game and give it up like that was a real tough one. We’ll think about it today and tonight, and then tomorrow we have to move on.”
Tomorrow doesn’t get any easier because that’s when West Virginia (9-3 overall and 2-3 in the Big 12 Conference) begins preparations for No. 2 Baylor (11-0/4-0). WVU faces the Bears in Waco on Tuesday at 9 p.m. (Eastern) in a game that will be televised by ESPN2.
Today was a missed opportunity against another highly-ranked opponent, as the Mountaineers fell 1.8 seconds short of posting its 13th all-time win in 52 games against a top four foe.
After a slow start, West Virginia heated up midway through the first half to forge a lead and took a 40-36 advantage into the locker room at halftime.
WVU tried to pull away in the second half and held leads as large as nine points a couple of different times early in the period. But the Longhorns kept battling back, and while they could never quite draw even, they stayed close enough to take advantage of a chance when it was presented in the closing moments.
The Mountaineers took a 70-65 lead with 1:41 left to play when WVU senior guard Taz Sherman knocked down a jumper from the foul line.
West Virginia wouldn’t score the rest of the way, though it did have several golden opportunities.
Mountaineer junior forward Derek Culver went to the foul line with 1:05 remaining and WVU up 70-67, but he missed the front end of a one-and-one.
UT’s Courtney Ramey quickly sliced the WVU lead to 70-69 with a driving layup on the other end.
West Virginia came down, now leading by one, and started a sequence that would leave them contemplating the wouldas, couldas, shouldas.
WVU junior forward Emmitt Matthews put up a shot with 35 seconds left. It missed, but he got his own rebound and worked the ball back out. McBride eventually put up for a shot with 13 seconds left, but his jumper didn’t fall either. Again Matthews corralled the offensive rebound, though, and he had a chance to turn and dribble back out to work more time off the clock. Instead, though, he spun to the bucket and was fouled with 10.8 seconds remaining.
“We all would have,” said WVU head coach Huggins when asked if he would have liked to have seen Matthews pull his last offensive rebound out to run more clock, “but the reality of it is they would have fouled him out there, and it was going to run just a few more seconds off the clock. That’s not going to end the game.”
Up 70-69 with a veteran, who had previously this season converted 26 of 29 free throw attempts, at the foul line for two shots, West Virginia seemed to be in pretty good hands.
But Matthews missed not just one but both free throws.
Texas’ Greg Brown grabbed the second miss, and the Longhorns’ Courtney Ramey took the outlet pass and went streaking up court, headed straight for the rim.
Nearly every Mountaineer on the floor collapsed into the paint to stop what would have been Ramey’s game-winning drive, but that also left UT junior Andrew Jones wide open in the corner. Ramey saw him and instead of forcing up a contested shot of his own, he pitched it out to his teammate. The ‘Horns didn’t need the 3-pointer for the win, but since Jones was open from there, he let fly with a shot that hit the bottom of the net with 1.8 seconds left, plunging a dagger into WVU’s victory dream.
“We knew Ramey was going to try to drive downhill and try to create contact or create a play for someone else, which he did,” said Sherman of that final, fateful UT play. “My job was to try to stay in front of (Ramey) and try to force a tough shot. He created help and kicked it out to an open shooter.
“We talked during the game plan about not giving (Jones) step-in threes, and he made four or five step-in threes today. He made a big shot when they needed one.”
West Virginia took a timeout after Jones gave UT the two-point lead. Huggins tried to draw up a miracle, but the play didn’t have much of a chance. McBride’s three-quartercourt pass sailed high and Texas left the Coliseum with its fourth victory in its 10th game in the building.
Jones, who is three years removed from a life-and-death battle with leukemia, finished with 16 points, making four of seven 3-pointers along the way. Three of those treys came in the first half, as he saved his one in the second half until UT needed it most.
Ramey led Texas (10-1/4-0) with 19 points to go along with six assists, the biggest being his drive-and-pitch to Jones in the final seconds.
Sherman had 17 points to lead the Mountaineers. He made three of his first four 3-point attempts, but missed his six tries from beyond the arc after his hot start.
Derek Culver recorded his seventh double-double of the season, finishing with 14 points and 16 rebounds, but he made just six of his 16 field goal attempts and only two of his six free throw tries.
“We can talk about Emmitt missing free throws, but to me the play of the game was when we were up six but gave up a pass to guy open inside for an easy layup,” stated Huggins. “If we don’t give that up and then go up eight with, what, two minutes to go, that would have been pretty tough for them to overcome.”
As it was, West Virginia could never put Texas away, thus allowing the Longhorns a shot to win it. Jones was up to the task.