MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - If you're wondering what it is that gets into Deniz Kilicli every once in a while and makes him seem invincible, well, join the crowd.
Know, though, that it's one that includes Kilicli himself.
"I don't know. It happens sometimes,'' Kilicli said of the every-once-in-a-while game in which he plays like an All-American. "I don't know why.''
Well, whatever the reason, it happened Saturday at the Coliseum. And because it happened, West Virginia was able to avoid what would have been an embarrassing, pretty much fatal loss.
Kilicli scored a career-high 25 points and the Mountaineers survived a Texas Tech rally and a potential game-winning shot at the buzzer, beating the Red Raiders 66-64 in front of a crowd of 10,530.
Eron Harris added 15 for the Mountaineers, who survived a Red Raiders team that is not only one of the worst in the Big 12, but also played the end of the game without its three best players, all of whom fouled out.
Tech closed to within 66-64 even after losing Dejan Kravic, Jordan Tolbert and Jaye Crockett to fouls, doing so with a pair of 3-pointers from Dusty Hannahs, the second with 46 seconds to play. After West Virginia failed to score at the end of a full 35-second possession, Tech had the ball for the final 10 seconds with a chance to tie or win.
The Red Raiders called timeout with 9.5 seconds to play, perhaps erring in doing so. West Virginia then had a chance to set its defense and not allow Hannahs the ball. Instead, Josh Gray took the inbounds pass, never gave it up and missed a 25-foot 3-point attempt at the buzzer.
Afterward, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins could only feel relieved. His team had survived 17 missed free throws, 18 turnovers and the last-second shot and still won.
"To go 24 for 41 on free throws and turn the ball over 18 times and still win is really pretty remarkable,'' Huggins said.
The win was the fourth in the last five games for West Virginia (13-12, 6-6 Big 12), which completed a 6-0 sweep of the bottom three teams in the conference (Tech, Texas and TCU).
That's the good news. The bad news is that against everyone else in the conference the Mountaineers are 0-6, and the final six games of the regular season are the rematches against those teams. The first is a quick turnaround for Monday's 9 p.m. game at Kansas State.
Texas Tech (9-13, 2-9) lost for the fifth game in a row and the second time in two weeks to WVU. The Red Raiders have lost nine of 10 since opening conference play with a win over TCU.
The last time the teams played, two weeks ago in Lubbock, Texas Tech turned the ball over 22 times. Saturday it was just 13 times, most early in the game. But this time Kilicli showed up and it was the difference.
The 6-foot-9, 260-pound forward made nine of his 11 shots, had eight rebounds and still dominated despite four turnovers and making just half of his 14 free throws. But he was mainly responsible for fouling out the three Texas Tech players, who just couldn't handle his strength inside.
Why? Again, Kilicli was at a loss, but he did have an idea.
"They didn't guard me the way other teams guard me,'' Kilicli said. "They let me catch the ball and I just went straight up.''
Huggins said Kilicli could have been even better had he had some more help.
"I thought if we could have passed him the ball he could have gotten 40,'' Huggins said. "There were times he was open and we couldn't get the ball to him.''
Leading by seven at halftime, West Virginia extended the lead to nine but then fell apart for a while. Texas Tech eventually used a couple of 3-pointers to take the lead at 39-38, but that was the only time. West Virginia got the lead back with four straight points from Kilicli, who would go on to score eight in a row, and never gave it up.
The Red Raiders never folded, though. West Virginia extended its lead to six a couple of times and finally to as much as eight, 64-56, but Tech battled back with the 3s by Hannah.
Eron Harris scored 15 for the Mountaineers, who shot 48.7 percent, the fourth time in the last five games they have shot 46 percent or better after doing so just three times in the first 20 games. Kilicli and Harris combined for 14 of West Virginia's 19 field goals.
Hannahs had 12 points for the Red Raiders, all on 3-pointers. Crockett led Tech with 18 points before fouling out with 2:31 to play.
West Virginia overcame its own sloppiness and took advantage of Tech's in managing a 32-25 lead at halftime.
Kilicli scored 12 points in the first half for the Mountaineers, who started strong, going up 8-2 as Tech turned the ball over on four of its first seven possessions. The Red Raiders, though, went on their own 13-2 run to take the lead while WVU was committing most of its 11 first-half turnovers.
West Virginia used a couple of 3-pointers from Terry Henderson and another from Harris in regaining control with a 19-4 run for the biggest lead of the half, 29-19. But again, sloppiness down the stretch, including a turnover while working for a last shot of the half while up by nine, cost the Mountaineers. Tech got a dunk just ahead of the buzzer to trim the margin to seven.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickm...@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.
West Virginia 66, Texas Tech 64
TEXAS TECH (9-14, 2-10 Big 12)