WVU’s Stuns Texas Tech To Advance To Big 12 Semis
In the Big 12’s current 10-team configuration, no No. 10 seed had ever won its first two games in the league tournament … until West Virginia, as WVU followed up its win on Wednesday over seventh-seeded Oklahoma with a Thursday stunner of second-seeded Texas Tech.
The Mountaineers advanced to Big 12 championship game in each the previous three seasons, but all of those WVU teams were top 20 clubs, two of which would advance to the NCAA’s Sweet 16.
This year’s WVU squad doesn’t have anything close to that NCAA resume. Even with a 79-74 victory over Texas Tech in Kansas City’s Sprint Center, West Virginia’s overall record is only 14-19.
But it certainly is playing its best basketball the last few weeks, now having won four of its past six games. Prior to that, it was just 2-12 against Big 12 competition this season.
WVU has definitely been much better in most facets in the past seven games, especially offensively. It has scored at least 72 points in each of those seven after reaching that total in just three of its previous 14 contests. There was even a four-game stretch in which West Virginia failed to break 53 points, including an embarrassing 81-50 blowout at the hands of Texas Tech in Lubbock on Feb. 4. The Red Raiders had also defeated WVU 62-59 in Morgantown on Jan. 2, but in K.C. on Thursday, West Virginia held the lead for 36 minutes and three seconds.
“I thought our guys were really ready to play,” said WVU coach Bob Huggins. “They were looking forward to this after really getting beat up in Lubbock.”
The Mountaineers came out ready and had a first half of their dreams. A 17-2 WVU run midway through the opening period lifted it to a 28-11 lead over the seventh-ranked team in the country. Tech responded with a 11-0 spurt of its own to close to within four, but then West Virginia scored the last five points of the first half and took a 38-29 advantage into the lockerroom at the midway point.
Freshman forward Emmitt Matthews was WVU’s biggest offensive force in the first half. He had never scored more than 13 points in an entire game with West Virginia, but he eclipsed that in the first half alone on Thursday with 15.
Matthews and the Mountaineers continued their strong performance in the second half. The rookie from Tacoma, Wash., drilled his second three-pointer of the game with 8:38 left in the contest to push WVU’s lead to 16 points, 63-47.
“It was a fantastic effort,” said WVU assistant coach Larry Harrison on the MSN postgame radio show. “We jumped out on them early, but we knew they were going to make a run.”
Texas Tech certainly had a run left. After all it didn’t become the first Big 12 team in 15 years to knock Kansas from its regular season championship perch, along with Kansas State, because it melted in the face of adversity. TTU’s sophomore guard Jarrett Culver, this season’s Big 12 Player of the Year, had just six points in the first half, but he carried the Red Raiders’ comeback effort in the second period. He scored 23 points in the final 20 minutes and brought Tech all the way back from the 63-47 deficit to a 69-68 lead with 2:03 remaining.
West Virginia wasn’t going away quietly either, though. It made nine straight free throws in the final 1:37, plus a Jermaine Haley drive, to retake the lead, and it held on from there for the upset victory. The Red Raiders made just two of their six shots in the final minute and a half to allow WVU to close out the win. In all, the Mountaineers, who entered the game making only 68.1 percent of their free throws, converted 20-of-22 from the stripe against Tech.
West Virginia used foul line to seal the win, but it used its rebounding to forge its lead to begin with.
WVU freshman center Derek Culver led that effort on the glass. Though he finished with just six points while making only one-of-eight shots, he did pull down a game-high 13 rebounds, marking the 12th time this season he’s been in double figures in that category. Matthews also had eight rebounds, as West Virginia led Texas Tech in that department 44-30. Those allowed the Mountaineers to have a 22-11 advantage in second-chance points.
“We played like an old West Virginia team tonight,” noted Harrison. “We got 10 more shots than them (67-57), and outrebounded them by 14. That’s the old West Virginia. That’s where we always made our mark, and that’s where we did it today.”
Matthews more than doubled his previous career high, scoring 28 points, while making 10-of-14 shots. He’s the eighth different Mountaineer to score at least 25 points this season, joining Haley, Jordan McCabe, Brandon Knapper, Beetle Bolden, Sagaba Konate, Esa Ahmad and Lamont West. Bolden and Ahmad are no longer on the team, and Konate hasn’t played since Dec. 8 because of a knee injury. Word spread after Wednesday’s first-round win over Oklahoma that Konate might see action Thursday against Texas Tech, and while the junior center warmed up and was in uniform for the first time the last 23 games, he did not play.
WVU didn’t need him, as Culver took care of the rebounding and Matthews carried much of the offensive load, though West Virginia also got double figure scoring efforts from McCabe (13 points), Haley (11) and West (10).
“Every game a different guy steps up,” said Huggins. “Tonight Emmitt stepped up, and Jermaine also stepped up.
“These guys believe in what they’re doing,” added the veteran coach. “We’re guarding better and rebounding better.”
Besides a 26-point, 10-rebound effort by Texas Tech’s Culver, the Red Raiders also got 14 points from Tariq Owens, 13 from Matt Mooney and 10 from Davide Moretti.
TTU (26-6) still has some significant basketball in front of it, as it is a lock for the upcoming NCAA Tournament, whose bids go out Sunday. The loss to West Virginia could potentially knock Tech down a seed line, as they went into the day as a projected three seed.
For the Mountaineers, it allows the young squad to fight another day. It will play at 9 p.m. (Eastern) on Friday in the Big 12 semifinal game against Kansas (24-8). The Jayhawks, who are the No. 3 seed, advanced to the semis by virtue of a 65-57 victory over Texas in their Thursday night quarterfinal matchup.
“We’re going to play until we can’t play no more,” stated Matthews.