Big 12 tournament: Kravic tip-in lifts Texas Tech past WVU
KANSAS CITY -- This was one of those moments that gives birth to the month's madness and West Virginia's Matt Humphrey had the perfect seat.
"I saw everything," he said.
And that meant Humphrey had the worst seat, on the bench with the rest of his teammates who had risen to their feet, the one with the unobstructed view of the final play of his team's final game of the season. It would be the final loss on a list of 19 thanks to a final error that sent the Mountaineers home after just one game of the Big 12 Tournament with a 71-69 loss to Texas Tech.
"I saw No. 11," Humphrey said. "I saw No. 11 at the free-throw line. I saw No. 11 run inside. That's a big guy."
The No. 11 was Texas Tech center Dejan Kravic, the No. 1 reason his team will play in today's quarterfinal against seventh-ranked Kansas, and the primary reason WVU went home with a seventh consecutive loss, a final record six games below .500 and one more reminder of why things were so bad.
This was a tied game with 13 seconds left to play in the conference tournament, two teams in the field with no realistic chance of winning the title trying to hang around another day.
There was a drive into the lane, a shot floating toward the basket before a dismissive hand appeared and swatted the ball hard to the left. A collective gasp followed the block directly to a shooter who was open in the corner for a game-winning 3-pointer.
Then came a sigh when the shot missed and then a cheer when a hero emerged to win the game.
It all happened in the last possession.
"We should have been playing that last possession all the way to the end," Humphrey said. "There were only 13 seconds left on the clock. If guys can't play hard for 13 seconds, you're not going to win the game."
It started when Texas Tech's Josh Gray, who the Mountaineers could not keep out of the paint, tried a layup. WVU's Aaric Murray blocked it at the rim and sent the ball out of bounds and seemingly the game to overtime.
Murray's block, his third of the game, went to Jamal Williams, who shot as WVU's Gary Browne chased.
"I thought time was going to run out before the guy got the shot off," Murray said. "Then I'm watching, like, 'I hope he doesn't make it.' He didn't and then there's still time?"
Murray and Dominique Rutledge were in the paint on the far side of the rim and Jabarie Hinds was a few steps inside the free throw line. WVU has Texas Tech outnumbered in the paint, but Jaye Crocket was inside of Hinds and Kravic was on the near side of the rim. Somehow, the shot from Williams on the left side came off the rim on the left side.
"They got a very fortunate bounce," WVU Coach Bob Huggins said.
It let the 6-foot-11 Kravic, who earlier in the half had broken a WVU press by dribbling up the floor and flicking a lob pass to Jordan Tolbert for a dunk, jump uncontested, put two hands cleanly on the ball and softly tip it into the basket with four-tenths of a second left.
"It's a 40-minute game," he said. "I just played to the last second."
"Why didn't I box out?" Murray said. "I was just standing around watching instead of playing."
That was merely the last mistake on a string of late miscues that led to the loss, which came despite WVU shooting 51 percent and erasing a 14-point first-half deficit to take their first lead with 10:03 to go. The largest lead was two points and the final occasion came with 2:05 remaining.
That was when things had already started to go badly. Down 67-66, Deniz Kilicli went 1-for-2 at the free throw line before Keaton Miles did the same. Crockett cut the lead in half by going 1-for-2 and later drove inside, drew Murray away from Kravic and then slipped a pass inside to Kravic for a basket.
Huggins called a timeout down 69-68, but Murray turned the ball over on a travel as he backed down his defender toward the basket. Gray missed a layup and Kravic fouled Kilicli battling for the rebound, but Kilicli went 1-for-2 at the foul line again with 20 seconds to go to leave the score tied.
"That's the year," Kilicli said. "The little things make the difference in basketball more than any other sport. The little things make so much difference. Basketball is not like other sports. You've got to be close to perfect to win these types of games. We weren't near it."
Kilicli battled illness in his final game and scored 10 points. Freshman Terry Henderson had 12 points and classmate Eron Harris added nine. He needed to score 14 to average 10 points for the season, which would lead the team. By finishing short, WVU (13-19) ended up without a double-figure scorer for the first time since 1944. Kevin Noreen added eight points and six rebounds.
Gray paced Texas Tech (11-19) with 10 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Crockett scored 18 points, Ty Nurse added 12, Tolbert had 11 and Kravic had 11 and seven rebounds, one larger than all the others.
"Our credo for as long as I've coached has always been to get to the ball," Huggins said. "It's hard to win when you don't get to the ball. I think that's any sport. That's not just basketball, that's any sport. And this group, for whatever reason, is the worst that we've ever had at getting to the ball."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.