Sometimes you lose pretty and sometimes you lose ugly, but Big 12 road victories are always a thing of beauty. West Virginia got one of those never-ugly road wins over desperate TCU at its newly remodeled Schollmaier Arena, 61-60, this afternoon.
The game came down to the final possession after 50-percent free throw shooter Daxter Miles Jr.
made his average with 4.8 seconds left to give the Mountaineers a one-point advantage.
Following a TCU timeout, the Horned Frogs got the ball up the floor to Desmond Bane on the right wing, but his game-winning, 3-point try was wide left as time expired.
“Just another walk in the park,” joked West Virginia coach Bob Huggins afterward.
With TCU billing today’s game as its “biggest of the year,” a near-capacity crowd of 6,486 saw the home team lose for a fifth straight time to turn its NCAA Tournament hopes from precarious to bleak.
The Horned Frogs, with a 53 RPI entering this afternoon, have just two resume-enhancing victories this year - Illinois State and Iowa State - but has now slipped to 6-10 in Big 12 play and cannot finish the regular season with a .500 conference record.
Meanwhile, West Virginia, now 23-6, 11-5, remains in the hunt for a second straight Big 12 runner-up finish to Kansas with two regular season games remaining on Monday night at Baylor and then Friday night in Morgantown against Iowa State - two other teams in contention for the No. 2 seed in this year’s Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship to be held at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, March 8-11.
Today, the Mountaineers had to use just about every specialty stat known to man to their advantage to pull this one out.
That’s because WVU shot a depressing 37 percent from the floor, including 21.4 percent from 3, made 10 of 15 from the free throw line and it got hammered on the glass in the first half.
But where the Mountaineers made up the difference was off turnovers (19-10 scoring advantage), bench scoring (plus-11) and shot attempts (65-46) while grabbing 14 offensive rebounds in the second half when WVU was better off kicking it into the basket instead of shooting it.
West Virginia led by nine, 18-9, with 8:27 left in the first half after a Jevon Carter
jumper, but poor shooting and turnovers enabled TCU to close out the first half on an 8-0 run and take a 30-27 halftime lead when Bane got his 3-pointer from the wing to go down ahead of the horn.
The second half was basically a back-and-forth affair with a total of 12 lead changes and eight ties.
“In the end, we just wanted to slow them down,” Huggins said.
TCU’s biggest second-half lead was three, 40-37 with 15 minutes remaining before West Virginia edged back out in front, 45-43, on an Elijah Macon
basket. The two teams exchanged baskets until the Mountaineers began to open some room with four minutes to go.
’s layup put West Virginia ahead 58-55 with 3:45 to go. After TCU’s Vladimir Brodziansky was unable to convert a one-and-one, Tarik Phillip
added two free throws at the other end to push the Mountaineers’ lead to five, 60-55.
But Brodziansky answered with a 3 with 2:13 remaining and Jaylen Fisher’s two free throws made it a one-point game with 50 seconds to go.
Alex Robinson could have given TCU the lead with 10 seconds left, but he only got one of his two free throws to go down to tie the game at 60.
For the third straight game, Carter led West Virginia with 15 points, despite shooting just six of 16 from the floor. Adrian contributed 13 points and a team-best eight rebounds, while Macon had a solid eight points and five rebounds - all five boards coming on the offensive glass.
For a second straight game, starting forward Esa Ahmad
sat out with lower back stiffness. He did not even make the trip to Fort Worth for today’s game.
West Virginia’s choice to use a 1-3-1 defense in the second half kept the Horned Frogs off balance just enough to steal an important road win.
“I don’t know what else to do,” Huggins said. “A drive to the rim is a foul. That’s what the game has become, so the 1-3-1 stops a lot of that penetration to the rim.”
Huggins said he recalled some instances in the past when the 1-3-1 zone was effective against Jamie Dixon’s Pitt teams when the two faced each other in the Big East.
“My long-term memory is sometimes better than my short-term memory, but I was thinking back to when Jamie was at Pitt and they were No. 2 in the country and we played them in the Big East Tournament. We threw the 1-3-1 out to see how they would handle it and we ended up playing it the whole game,” Huggins said.
“The triple-overtime game at Pitt (2010) we played 1-3-1 a lot - better than we do now, obviously, and I just thought it does two things: one, I thought I had an idea of how he was going to attack it and the second thing was we could stop their penetration with it.”
Freshman Jaylen Fisher led TCU with 18 points, but he also turned the ball over six times. TCU’s top recruit also struggled against West Virginia’s pressure in Morgantown, turning the ball over six times that night as well.
Today's win completes a season sweep of TCU. Earlier this year, the Mountaineers defeated the Horned Frogs 82-70 in Morgantown.
It’s a quick turnaround for the Mountaineers facing Baylor on Big Monday in Waco.
The Bears are currently playing at Iowa State this afternoon.