No. 13 West Virginia 84, No. 12 Texas 82: Longhorns watch 19-point lead slip away to cap frustrating week
Smart: “Sometimes, the basketball gods, they don’t let you win a game like that.”
This was a week when everything failed. And when No. 12 Texas needed basic necessities the most, those failed, too.
A 19-point lead couldn’t hold up Saturday, much like the state’s electrical grid. An offense that shot 70% in the first half ran dry in the second, just like Austin’s water.
Coach Shaka Smart pulled every lever imaginable, and nothing worked. Greg Brown’s corner 3-pointer went in and out. Kai Jones fumbled a ball out of bounds. Matt Coleman III, the Longhorns’ best free-throw shooter, missed the front end of a critical one-and-one.
Even after all that, the Horns still had two more chances. Andrew Jones had a great look at a 3-pointer that also went in and out. Then, with less than a second remaining, Jericho Sims just missed on a lob at the buzzer.
Smart berated one official afterward as if he worked for ERCOT, but there were no answers there, either. No. 13 West Virginia hustled out of the Erwin Center with an 84-82 win, leaving Texas fans with a fitting end to a straight-up miserable week.
“Sometimes, the basketball gods, they don’t let you win a game like that,” Smart said. “And so it’s a really tough pill to swallow.”
After a week like Austin's had, everyone's on edge. With 15:52 remaining, Courtney Ramey went after Andrew Jones, his own teammate, over a perceived lack of intensity on defense. Coleman had to step in and separate the two, and Ramey was clearly incensed. West Virginia outscored Texas 34-18 after the dust-up.
Afterward, Ramey and Coleman both dismissed it as heat-of-the-moment competitiveness.
“The altercation with me and Andrew shouldn’t have gone as far as it did, but maybe that’s good,” Ramey said. “We can learn from it.”
Said Coleman: “They’re fine. Just emotions, that’s all. Nothing personal. The want-to to win. Just raising the standard, holding everybody accountable.”
Texas is now 13-6 overall and 7-5 in Big 12 play. There are only two scheduled games left, the first coming Tuesday at home against Kansas and then a trip to Texas Tech next weekend. The Horns still have four Big 12 road games to make up due to COVID-19 postponements. None has been rescheduled yet.
Nothing will be easy about this team’s road to the regular-season finish line. But it can’t afford to stumble now and bumble its way into the postseason. This is the same team that was ranked fourth nationally and considered a possible No. 1 seed in early January.
“Maybe we should just play all away games,” Coleman said.
What’ll bother Texas coaches even more is that the final numbers indicate this should have been an impressive home victory.
Ramey hit a seven 3-pointers and finished with a season-high 28 points, both career highs. Coleman poured in 20 on 8-of-9 shooting.
Jericho Sims had 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting and five rebounds while battling West Virginia’s Derek Culver all day. Talk about a terrific one-on-one matchup in the paint. Culver finished with similar numbers, getting 14 points on 4-of-9 shooting but doing more damage at the free-throw line.
All the power generators needed to light up Austin were stored at the free-throw line. West Virginia (15-6, 8-4) just took advantage more often on a day when officials were willing to call just about anything a foul.
Texas committed 13 fouls in the first half, allowing West Virginia to make 15 of 20 freebies before halftime. The Horns either couldn’t keep their hands in check or couldn't get down the floor fast enough at times. But then again, that’s the Mountaineers M.O. They attack, attack, attack, something Texas does only when the mood strikes.
By the time it was over, the Horns were whistled 25 times compared with the Mountaineers’ 15. Coach Bob Huggins’ club finished the day 26-for-37 at the stripe while Smart’s team was 4-for-10.
In the end, this game wasn’t decided at the foul line, although having Ramey for the final 2:27 would have been nice. He fouled out after hitting back-to-back 3-pointers to give Texas an 82-81 lead.
West Virginia’s 13-2 run midway through the second half was pivotal. Sean McNeil’s off-balance jumpers, more free throws and Miles McBride’s 3-pointer got the Mountaineers within four points. McBride hit another 3-pointer with 6:29 remaining that tied things up.
Texas, which scored 53 points in a sizzling first half, managed just 29 after the break. Outside of Sims’ dunk and Coleman’s scoop layup, there wasn’t much to talk about.
Andrew Jones went 1-for-7 from 3-point range. Kai Jones usually contributes more, too. Brown struggled; he finished with no points on 0-for-4 shooting but did get eight rebounds. The Horns made only two of their final 10 shots.
“I’ll ride it out with Greg, just because he’s a great character on and off the floor,” Coleman said. “It happens. He’s just a freshman, 18 or 19 years old. But he’ll be fine. We’re not going to turn our head, turn our shoulders on him. Greg’s going to be fine. We’re going to make sure of that.”
The Mountaineers cranked up the defensive pressure, especially on the perimeter. Texas shot just 37.9% in the second half and needed air-tight execution against a team that clearly had all the momentum.
What kind of momentum does Texas have now? It’s unclear.
Smart said the upcoming game against Kansas is a “watershed moment for those guys to demonstrate what they’re about.”