MORGANTOWN - A month after rallying to beat Texas in overtime in Austin, West Virginia fell behind the Longhorns again Monday night at the Coliseum. This time, though, no real dramatic rally was needed, nor was overtime.
The Mountaineers blew every bit of an 11-point lead in the second half, but recovered in plenty of time to surge past Texas and win, 60-58, in front of a Coliseum crowd of just 4,966 kept down by a snowstorm.
Denis Kilicli scored 14 points and made what ultimately was the decisive three-point play with 31/2 minutes to play to give WVU a 58-54 lead. Texas then had five straight empty possessions against the Mountaineer defense and never had the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead.
Kilicli's last basket wasn't the only clutch one he made. In fact, when the Mountaineers needed points, he was usually involved. He made six of his eight shots and for the second straight game was a force on both ends of the floor. In fact, most of his last five games have been quality performances.
"I thought he was terrific,'' coach Bob Huggins said of the 6-foot-8, 260-pound senior. "He's been so much more active. I thought his last two games were the best all-round games he's played.''
Trailing 54-53 with about four minutes to play, the Mountaineers took the lead for good on freshman Eron Harris 20-footer. Bigger than that one, though, was the three-point play by Kilicli 30 seconds later. Kilicli was fouled and threw up a fall-away prayer that dropped in and his free throw made it 58-54.
"He's a forced down there,'' guard Jabarie Hinds said of Kilicli. "When he's playing well down there, everything works better.''
Texas never had much of a chance after that thanks to West Virginia's defense. Neither team scored at all from Kilicli's play at 3:35 until Harris made another free throw with 25 seconds left to make it 59-54. The Longhorns first struggled to get off a couple of 3-pointers, then Aaric Murray had two huge plays in a row, stealing the ball and blocking a shot on consecutive possessions to keep the Longhorns from scoring.
Sheldon McClelland managed to cut it to 59-56 with a couple of free throws with 11.4 seconds to play, but Murray made one free throw to make it a safe 60-56 lead with 9.3 seconds to play.
McClelland, who seconds before had managed to draw a three-shot foul by leaning into Kilicli on a desperation shot, did the same thing with less than a second to play against Murray. He made two shots, then missed the third on purpose and Murray grabbed the rebound to end the game.
The win was West Virginia's second in a row and brings the record for the Mountaineers (11-11, 4-5 Big 12) back to .500 overall and nearing the break-even point in league play. With a game Saturday at last-place TCU, continuing the run seems quite possible. And at this point in the season that's all the Mountaineers can ask for.
"You take them one at a time,'' said Huggins. "There have been other times when I thought we'd turned a corner and had things going and we didn't keep it going. But I think we've still got a chance. It helps that we're guarding. It helps that Deniz is playing the way he's playing.''
Indeed, Kilicli's play figures to be a key. In very few of the games that he's played well this season have the Mountaineers lost. And being a go-to guy doesn't bother him at all.
"As long as I make my shots, I'm a go-to guy,'' Kilicli said.