On the morning of the biggest game of his collegiate career, Kerwin Roach II had one sole mission.
“Woke up this morning at 7. We had to be here at 7:45,” Roach said. “So I wasn’t really thinking about too much, except for eating.”
Anything but ravioli, the culprit in Monday’s stomach-churning disaster. Breakfast is always safer anyway. After all, the Longhorns had plenty of other things roiling their stomachs, hearts and minds before Saturday’s mega-matchup against No. 20 West Virginia.
In the first game, the Mountaineers won by 35. “They just knocked us out,” the Texas guard said, “but this time we refused to get knocked out.”
Needing a win to all but secure an at-large spot in the NCAA Tournament, the Longhorns stood tall. Roach and Matt Coleman both tied their career highs with 22 points each as Texas captured an 87-79 overtime win.
“If I was on the committee, yeah, we’re in,” UT coach Shaka Smart said. His team hit 11 of 19 3-pointers for a .579 shooting percentage — the highest total in Smart’s three seasons. It was also UT’s fourth-straight Big 12 home victory over a team ranked in the top 20.
Smart’s counterpart offered no resistance. “There’s a bunch of people that aren’t near as talented as they are,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said.
The Longhorns (18-13, 8-10 Big 12) will not learn their postseason fate until selection Sunday on March 11. Until then, Texas will be the No. 7 seed in next week’s Big 12 tournament and face No. 10 seed Iowa State in Wednesday’s first round.
A flight to Kansas City will come soon enough, but the Horns deserve to revel in what happened against the Mountaineers (22-9, 11-7). As Smart left the media room, UT Athletic Director Chris Del Conte grabbed the coach’s hand and said, “That was awesome.”
This was arguably the biggest game in Smart’s three seasons at Texas. Win, and Texas is likely in the NCAAs after missing it last season. Lose, and it’s off to the lower-rung NIT. The Horns have not missed the NCAAs in two straight seasons since 1987 and ’88.
One hour before tipoff, freshman center Mo Bamba was nowhere to be found. That left sprained toe injury sidelined him again. Bamba’s towering figure finally appeared alongside Eric Davis Jr., who is still being withheld by UT compliance officials. There’s no indication whether Davis will play again this season after he allegedly took $1,500 from an agent, as detailed by Yahoo Sports.
Bamba might play in Kansas City. Saturday’s win could have healing powers unknown to medicine. “I’m not in his body, so I don’t know how exactly that he’s feeling,” Smart said. “We’re really optimistic that he’s going to play at some point, hopefully in Kansas City.”
Leading up to the WVU matchup, Smart refused to paint the situation as dire. He did show players about 10 minutes of a boxing documentary about Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward. The game, like their famous matches, should be broken down into 10 rounds, Smart said.
Jericho Sims landed the first punch, metaphorically speaking. He dribbled twice, went up into the arena lights and came down and vicious two-handed dunk that left you clutching your pearls. It was a standout beginning for his career-high 17 points in 36 minutes.
“I was just trying to get revenge for the last time we played them,” said Sims, who also went 5 for 8 at the free throw line. He’s now averaging 13.3 points in the last three games without Bamba.
Roach started the game guarding WVU’s Jevon Carter, who ate up Coleman in the previous matchup on Jan. 20. Both UT guards took turns creating off the dribble and hitting 3-pointers.
Dylan Osetkowski finally found his groove, too. He was 5 for 7 from 3-point range and tallied up 15 points. WVU got out to a 48-42 lead early in the second half, but Osetkowski hit two from long range and the Horns were right back in it.
It was a back-and-forth affair the rest of the way. Texas got up by seven with 9:59 left in regulation. WVU came back and went up 68-67 with 2:40 remaining.
In the extra period, Texas went on an 11-0 run sparked by Coleman’s 3-pointer from the right corner and a scintillating alley-oop dunk by Sims. But the backbreaker might have been Jacob Young’s 3-pointer in transition with 2:18 left.
“(Assistant coach Darrin) Horn was saying, ‘No, no, no.’ And then it went in,” Smart said.
Texas has played in seven overtime games this season, partly due to the fact UT is the worst free throw shooting team in the Big 12. This time, the Horns made four in the last 1:11 to sew it up.
Players did exactly what Smart asks by playing “ACL” — aggressive, confident and loose.
Keep that up, and who knows where things go this month? Next stop: Kansas City.
“Obviously matchups are big,” Smart said. “I’ll tell you this, if we’re not the best version of Texas, the way this league is, it doesn’t matter who you play.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.