WVU hooks 'Horns again
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.
Texas had won two of its last three, but like West Virginia they were against league doormats TCU and Texas Tech. The Longhorns (10-12, 2-7) have yet to win a road game this season and lost to the Mountaineers for the second time this season. WVU wiped out a 12-point deficit to win in overtime in Austin on. Jan. 9.
Kilicli and Hinds led West Virginia with 14 points each, while Harris had 13.
Leading by seven at halftime, West Virginia was shooting the lights out, at one point hitting 12 of 16 shots after a slow start. That gave the Mountaineers leads of as many as 11 points, the last one 44-33 at the 14-minute mark.
Texas got WVU out of its offense with halfcourt pressure, though, and went on a 16-3 run to take the lead. But the Longhorns could never get ahead by more than a basket and West Virginia finally surged ahead late.
For at the least the first 10 to 12 minutes of the game, the teams played precisely the type of game one might expect from groups with identical 10-11 records -- sloppy and inefficient. Fortunately for the Mountaineers, they revived themselves in time to make that late run and grab the lead at halftime, 32-25.
West Virginia began the game ice cold, missing 10 of 11 shots at one point and fell behind by as many as seven points, 15-8. At one point the Mountaineers went 7:45 without a field goal.
It was still a 20-15 Texas lead after WVU snapped that long scoring drought and that's when the Mountaineers went to work. Over a 51/2-minute stretch West Virginia outscored Texas 12-0, getting four points each from Terry Henderson and Hinds.
That made it 27-20 and the Mountaineers extended the lead to nine points, 32-23, before Texas got two free throws just before the halftime buzzer.
Kilicli led West Virginia with eight points in the first half. After starting the game 2-for-12 from the field, WVU made eight of its final 10 shots before the break. Texas was shooting 31 percent.
The crowd of 4,966 was the smallest of the season, just a handful less than the 4,982 who saw the Mountaineers beat Radford just before Christmas. It was the smallest crowd for a conference game since the end of Gale Catlett's final season in 2002. That year, 4,279 showed up for the final home game against Georgetown, two weeks after just 3,942 saw a game here against Virginia Tech. In fact, four of the final six home crowds that season were smaller than Monday's.
Still, Huggins was actually pleased that there were that many in the stands.
"I thought getting [almost 5,000] people here tonight with the conditions that we had was really good,'' said Huggins. "Probably most of them were from Suncrest.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or email@example.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.