WVU basketball: Mountaineers survive selves, Texas Tech, 66-64
MORGANTOWN -- There are no easy ones for West Virginia these days. Not when there are 18 turnovers and 17 missed free throws, as there were Saturday before 10,530 at the Coliseum.
Yet there are games the Mountaineers expect to win, the games against the dregs of the Big 12 Conference that they'd thus far feasted upon for all of their conference wins.
Another was lined up in the form of Texas Tech, a team WVU beat by 16 points two weeks ago in Lubbock, Texas, but the Mountaineers needed the other team's top three players to foul out, a curious timeout in the final seconds and then a poor decision on the last play to get away with a 66-64 victory.
"The truth of the matter is to go 24-for-41 from the foul line and turn it over 18 times and still win is pretty remarkable," Coach Bob Huggins said.
The Mountaineers led by 10 points in the first half and eight in the second half, but had to hold their breaths when TTU's Josh Gray missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer. Gray shoots 19.1 percent from 3-point range and was 0-for-3 against WVU.
He had the ball in his hands, though, after WVU's Juwan Staten missed a rather uncontested layup with 9.5 seconds to go.
With Jaye Crockett, Jordan Tolbert and Dejan Kracic, the top three scorers, all out of the game with five fouls, the Raiders opted to go for the win.
"It was going to be very tough for us to play another five minutes," interim Coach Chris Walker said.
TTU wanted to get Jamal Williams or Dusty Hannahs the ball -- Williams had two 3s in the game and Hannahs had four, including two in the previous two possessions -- but the Mountaineers took them away and that left Gray alone on the right side as Walker watched on with no timeouts.
"We would have suggested that he drive it," Walker said.
The conclusion followed something equally unusual only moments earlier. Toddrick Gotcher, a guard playing power forward because of his team's foul trouble, rebounded Staten's miss and started the other way. The Red Raiders had a 3-on-2 advantage, but Walker called his final timeout.
"They didn't see it," WVU's Gary Browne said. "That's part of the game."
It preserved a commanding performance by Deniz Kilicli, who had a career-high 25 points for the Mountaineers and made 9 of his 11 shots. He took over at different parts of the game, but also played a major part in fouling out TTU's trio.
Kilicli had six points before the first media timeout and 10 in the first half. He scored eight points on four straight possessions in the second half, but would wait nearly eight minutes for his next shot. That went in, as did a short shot with 1:23 to go that gave WVU its final points and a 66-61 lead.
"I think that if we could pass the ball better, I think he could have gotten 40," Huggins said. "He did a great job sealing. I thought he was open quite a few more times than we actually got him the ball."
Passing and possession were WVU's greatest weaknesses, again, and the Mountaineers have 36 turnovers the past two games.
"If we got to 40, I'd be pretty concerned," Huggins dryly said.
Freshman Eron Harris scored 10 of his 15 points after halftime and Terry Henderson had all eight of his points in the first half. Only five players made a basket for the Mountaineers, though they still shot 48.7 percent in the game and 58.8 percent in the second half.
Crockett led TTU with 18 points off the bench. Hannahs had 12 points, Williams had 11 and Tolbert had 10.
WVU finished season sweeps of Texas, Texas Tech and TCU, the bottom three teams in the conference standings. The Mountaineers (13-12, 6-6 Big 12) are one spot above them and have no wins against teams above them in the standings. Their final six games are against those top six teams, beginning with Monday's 9 p.m. ESPN game at No. 10 Kansas State.
The Wildcats (19-5, 8-3) played host to Baylor Saturday night.
WVU led 32-25 at the half, but back-to-back 3s from Williams and Hannahs gave the Red Raiders (9-14, 2-10) a 39-38 lead. Kilicli then reeled off eight points in four possessions to go ahead 46-43, but would wait 7:45 before his next shot as the Mountaineers missed 3 of 5 shots and 4 of 10 free throw attempts.
The Red Raiders would get within a basket at 53-51 before Kilicli finally got the ball inside and scored to go ahead 58-52 with 4:33 to go.
The lead would reach eight points on Aaric Murray's three-point play that fouled out Crockett with 2:31 remining after Kravic and Tolbert went to the bench. The Red Raiders wouldn't go away and a turnover by Harris gave them the ball before Hannahs hit a 3 with 1:37 remaining to make it 64-61.
Kilicli scored on the next possession on a pass from Murray, but Hannahs got open on the sideline after a timeout and hit again to make it 66-64 with 46 seconds remaining, closer than WVU ever hoped.
"Definitely," Browne said. "It was a home game that we should have won by 15."
The Mountaineers were up by as many as 10 points in the first half, but it was a chore. They led 8-2 after TTU had four turnovers to give WVU six early points, but then the Red Raiders held onto the ball while the Mountaineers could not.
In a 4:11 stretch between the second and third media timeouts, WVU had four turnovers for nine Red Raiders points as part of their 10-2 run to take a 15-10 lead.
WVU had 10 turnovers in the first half and they were often unusual. Harris stepped out of bounds on the sideline. Jabarie Hinds flipped an inbound pass too high for the 6-foot-9 Kilcli. Henderson and Kilicli threw passes to no one that ended up out of bounds. Dominique Rutledge got stuck in the paint and bounced a pass off a red Nike. The Mountaineers had the ball stolen five times, which is just about the average for a full game.
Things would change just as quickly once again as TTU missed seven straight shots. WVU started to add some distance with a 19-4 run that included two 3s from Henderson and one from Harris. A pair of free throws from Staten put the Mountaineers ahead 29-19.
WVU would then miss 3 of 6 free throws in the final 93 seconds and commit its final and most inexplicable turnover of the half. After a TTU turnover with 32 seconds to go, Huggins called a timeout to set up a play, but Staten dribbled too long and was called for a five seconds violation.
TTU gathered and drove into the paint, where Gray stopped and passed below the basket to Kader Tapsoba for a dunk right before the buzzer.