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WVU ends slide, beats Texas Tech 77-61

LUBBOCK, Texas -- West Virginia started fast and ended faster Saturday afternoon at the United Spirit Center.

The ugliness that transpired in the middle? Well, all in all it didn't matter.

West Virginia beat Texas Tech here 77-61 Saturday at the beginning of what amounts to a make-or-break stretch of the season where the Mountaineers have to win games or risk missing the postseason all together.

And afterward, coach Bob Huggins seemed, well, as happy as a coach might be who just watched his team play as poorly as it can and as well as it can, all in one 40-minute stretch.

"There are a lot of things these guys have shown me,'' Huggins said, "that I never thought I'd see.''

How poorly? Well, the Mountaineers turned the ball over 18 times, including 10 in the first 12 minutes of the game. They had another stretch during the early part of the final 10 minutes when they lost the ball on four of seven possessions.

And how well? Well, even while turning the ball over time and again early in the game, West Virginia still managed to build a 6-point lead. Of course, it helped that Texas Tech was even worse, managing just five shots in the game's first eight minutes, at one point going seven straight possessions without getting the ball to the rim (five turnovers, a blocked layup and a foul).

In the end, the difference was -- and this is perhaps the most unusual part of WVU's win -- the Mountaineers shot the lights out. They made 10 of their 18 3-pointers, shot 56.5 percent overall, made 65 percent of their shots in the second half and made virtually every important shot they took.

"Every play we ran, we either scored or went to the line,'' point guard Juwan Staten said, referring specifically to a late-game run that turned a four-point lead into a 14-point bulge and proved the difference. "That's the way we're supposed to run offense. And we did.''

The win snaps a two-game losing streak for West Virginia, which had lost five of six. The Mountaineers (10-11, 3-5 Big 12) are still below .500 with 10 games to play in the regular season, but this was the first of a string of games (four in five) in which they face teams that are also near the bottom of league.

Texas Tech is now 9-10 overall and 2-6 in the league.

Freshman Eron Harris led West Virginia with 18 points, all but three in the second half. He missed all four of his 3-point attempts in the first half, but made three of five in the second.

Here's the best indication that it was just West Virginia's day shooting the ball: Gary Browne, shooting just 15.9 percent on his 3-pointers this season, made all three that he attempted. Even Kevin Noreen sank one.

"We're good when we get people spread,'' Huggins said of his team's offense. But you have to make shots to get people spread. Today we made shots.''

The Mountaineers played defense, too. Late in the game, they went to their point-drop and it was the difference in the 10-0 run that salted the game away.

Leading just 59-55 with six minutes to go and having committed those four turnovers in seven possessions, the Mountaineers befuddled Tech with their defensive change, forcing four straight turnovers and five in six trips down the floor. When Harris and Browne made 3s after the first of those turnovers, it ignited the run.

"All of the things that we do well, we did well today,'' said Staten, who had 11 points. "In the past, we've won some games because we shot well or did something else [they normally don't do]. But today we did the things we do best.''

Still, it was a sloppy, sloppy game. The teams combined for 46 fouls and 40 turnovers. All three of WVU's primary big men -- Deniz Kilicli, Aaric Murray and Noreen -- had four fouls, as did Browne. But Murray overcame the foul trouble to score 12 points, Browne 11 and Kilicli nine.

Tech, which turned the ball over 22 times, shot 47.6 percent and made 17 of 21 free throws. Ty Nurse had 14 points and Jaye Crockett 13.

With a quick turnaround and trip back home, West Virginia now follows the same schedule as last week -- a Monday home game and then a trip to Texas. The Mountaineers are at the Coliseum Monday night for an ESPN Big Monday game against Texas, a team they rallied to beat in overtime on Jan. 9 in Austin. WVU then will have a few extra days to prepare for next Saturday's game in Fort Worth against TCU.

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1


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