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Gritty effort and strong finish push Texas to 61-54 victory over West Virginia

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The Longhorns are 2-0 in conference play for the first time since 2011.

Dylan Osetkowski on the block against Derrick Culver.
Courtesy of Texas

AUSTIN, Texas — Big plays late on offense by Matt Coleman and on defense by Dylan Osetkowski secured a 61-54 victory for the Texas Longhorns over the West Virginia Mountaineers

Thanks to the 17 points and three assists from the Texas sophomore point guard and a late block and steal by the Longhorns senior forward, Texas is 2-0 in conference play for the first time since 2011.

After a Derrick Culver layup on an offensive rebound to cut the Texas lead to 54-52, Coleman found Jaxson Hayes for a lob dunk.

On the next possession, with the shot clock winding down, Coleman drained a step back three from virtually the Texas bench to stretch the lead to five.

When the Mountaineers subsequently earned the team’s 14th offensive rebound, Osetkowski came up with eighth block of the season, surpassing his entire total from 2017-18. Coleman responded again by hitting both free throws before Osetkowski came up with a steal on driving, spinning West Virginia guard Beetle Bolden to seal the game.

Osetkowski was incredibly efficient offensively, too, hitting 4-of-5 shots, both of his three pointers, and adding four free throws to finish with 14 points. The only miss from the field came on a late tip attempt.

Texas calls the last four minutes of the game winning time and practice it constantly. On Saturday, the Longhorns were the better team.

“Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games,” Coleman said of his late three-pointer.

With elite shot blocker Sagaba Konate out due to a knee injury, Texas capitalized by relentlessly attacking the basket, finishing on 12-of-17 shots around the rim and drawing a handful of opportunities at the free-throw line as a result. On a night when the Horns were merely solid from beyond the arc (6-of-16), the ability to get to the rim and finish was the biggest difference.

West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins started the game off unhappy with his team, as evidenced by giving freshman walk-on guard Taevon Horton the start after playing only seven minutes all season. Forward Jermaine Haley did, too, despite averaging less than three points per game.

Two factors emerged early with the potential to impact the game — West Virginia was called for two fouls on the game’s first three possessions, including holding a screener, and gave up two looks at the rim for Texas with elite shot blocker Sagaba Konate out with a knee injury.

Particularly in the former regard, tightly-called games that limit physicality tend to favor opponents of the Mountaineers. Indeed, Texas entered the bonus with 11:38 remaining in the first half.

Unfortunately for the Horns, five turnovers plagued the first eight minutes of action, mistakes that were largely self-inflicted, including careless ball handling by junior guard Elijah Mitrou-Long and senior guard Kerwin Roach II.

When Texas did manage to get shots up, it did so consistently around with the rim, with the guards hitting 8-of-11 attempts around the rim and Osetkowski using a nice up-and-under move for his own paint bucket. The efficiency getting to the rim was the main reason the Longhorns shot 57.1 percent from the field in the first half while attempting only eight shots from beyond the arc. When the Mountaineers did manage to get stops on driving attempts, it was purely due to degree of difficulty.

This is good

So Texas attempted 52.3 percent of its shots in or near the paint, with all four fouls that resulted in free throws also coming near the basket.

Against West Virginia, a significant part of the equation is always taking care of the basketball and keeping the Mountaineers off the glass. In the first half, the deficit only favored the home team by six points due to seven turnovers and five offensive rebounds allowed that resulted in 12 lost possessions. With the way the offense was operating, the difference was more than 10 points.

Overall, the Horns weren’t exactly strong on the offensive glass — the Mountaineers had 14 offensive rebounds and 15 defensive rebounds — but did enough to win the game. Sometimes that’s all that matters.

The second half started out positively, with Roach attacking the rim for another Longhorns layup and then drawing a foul on another drive to make up for six wasted possessions in the first half (three missed shots, three turnovers).

When Osetkowski hit a three-pointer with 15:55 remaining to take an eight-point lead, it appeared as if Texas was set to create some significant separation. Instead, Bolden drew a foul on sophomore guard Jase Febres on a jumpshot for an And-1 and then hit a difficult, contested three on the next possession.

And then the officials inserted themselves into the game, at least in the partisan estimation of Longhorns fans, who booed at several points over the next few minutes as Texas racked up eight fouls by the under-12 timeout with 11:28 remaining. All told, fouls were whistled every 43 seconds by that point in the second half.

After two tough drives by Mitrou-Long that resulted in hard fouls at the rim, the Horns once again stretched the lead to eight with an Osetkowski three, this time in transition. Huggins responded with a timeout as the Erwin Center came to life.

Bolden only played five minutes in the first half due to foul trouble, going scoreless with two turnovers. In the second half, he heated up enough to keep the Mountaineers in the game with 13 points on 4-of-8 shooting. Two makes came from beyond the arc and three more points came from the free-throw line.

Culver, a broad shouldered 6’10, 255-pound freshman from Youngstown, Ohio, was difficult to handle for Texas throughout the game. Thanks to five offensive rebounds and a promising post game, Culver made 8-of-12 shots for 17 points.

Thanks to the efforts of Coleman and Osetkowski late, however, the Horns were able to hold on for the win in front of a crowd that wasn’t especially substantial, but made an important at key points of the game.

With a Tuesday trip to Stillwater looming against No. 87 Oklahoma State in which Texas will be favored by, the Horns have taken advantage of two opportunities against short-handed opponents to start Big 12 play. And that could end up being an important accomplishment in the nation’s toughest basketball conference.