MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The sign on the WVU Coliseum marquee reads “Press Virginia.” That is so true.
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins’ frustrating defensive pressure extends all the way to Interstate 79 with a bumper-to-bumper trap on Jerry West Blvd.
Texas’ team bus got stopped cold — in 19-degree temperatures no less — by pre-game traffic. Once the coaches and players finally reached the arena, there was no panic. Despite a lackluster first half, the Longhorns pulled things together for a dynamite 56-49 upset win over the sixth-ranked Mountaineers on Wednesday night.
It’s the team’s biggest road win since Texas knocked off No. 2 Kansas in January 2011. The Longhorns, thought to be roadkill after losing injured center Cam Ridley, have won four of their last five without him and are now 4-2 in the Big 12, a league where every team is vulnerable and anything is possible.
“Our guys really answered the bell tonight,” Texas coach Shaka Smart said. His bunch is 12-6 overall and 3-1 against ranked opponents. “Shows what we really have inside of us.”
Isaiah Taylor went 0 for 8 shooting? The Mountaineers had an eye-popping 24-6 edge on the offensive glass? Texas missed nine 3-pointers and 12 free throws and still won?
Do that Saturday against No. 3 Kansas, however, and it could get ugly. But on this snowy night against a team that’s already beaten the Jayhawks, it was good enough. The shouting inside the visitors’ locker room could be heard halfway down the hallway. It helped that West Virginia (15-3, 4-2) went 3 for 21 from 3-point range and 8 for 23 from the free throw line.
“We needed this one,” guard Kendal Yancy said. “We understand how hard we’ve been working and we just needed something for a reward.”
WVU coach Bob Huggins said, “We just weren’t in it mentally. I don’t know why.”
The West Virginia University police department had the day’s biggest assist. The Horns called in the cavalry when the bus couldn’t move due to bad weather and traffic-choked streets. A police escort got Texas to the arena about 40 minutes before tipoff.
“I think some of the guys took a nap on the bus,” Smart said.
“Sure did! Coach did, too,” said Javan Felix, who finished with a game-high 17 points.
The first half was awful basketball all the way around — bad offense, terrible free throw shooting and way too many fouls for both teams. Still, Felix hit a 3-pointer and Taylor sank two free throws to give the Horns a 28-25 lead at the break.
West Virginia’s crowd got back into it after Daxter Miles’ 25-footer tied things up at 42-42. The Horns took that punch and threw some of their own. Shaq Cleare slammed home a monster dunk, and then Connor Lammert drilled a 3-pointer from the right corner.
“I was thinking Shaq was going to lay it in,” Lammert said. “He was joking that he was looking down at the rim.”
West Virginia got back within two, but then Felix followed his missed 3-pointer and drained a baseline jumper. Then he sank two free throws after getting the benefit of a Mountaineer lane violation. The coup de gras was supposed to be Lammert’s 3-pointer in the left corner. But he fumbled the ball and quickly kicked it to Felix, who swished a 25-footer of his own.
At that point, Texas had a 54-47 lead with 1:38 remaining, and West Virginia fans headed for the exits.
“I can read the future,” Lammert said. “I knew it was going to be good and Javan would make it. Sometimes those kind of plays happen.”
The most important stat may have been Texas’ eight turnovers. West Virginia leads the nation in forced turnovers (20.7). But the Horns never got rattled and handled WVU’s press with ease. It’s the fourth straight game Texas has had less than 10 turnovers.
“I think it’s just trusting our system,” Felix said. “We know that our system works. We do a really good job of executing when we put our mind to it.”