Playing sports during a pandemic sometimes means last-minute changes in player availability that can completely reshape a game and that’s exactly what happened to the West Virginia Mountaineers just before tipoff against the No. 17 Texas Longhorns at the Erwin Center on Saturday.
With leading scorer Taz Sherman and the team’s best defensive player, Gabe Osabouhien, among the three West Virginia players out due to COVID-19 protocols, Texas entered the game at a significant advantage and took care of business against the visitors.
In the decisive first half, the Longhorns defense stymied the Mountaineers, forcing 12 turnovers and holding West Virginia to 32-percent shooting from the floor. The Mountaineers finished with 22 baskets and 20 turnovers after shooting 51.9 percent in the second half.
Head coach Chris Beard’s team was effective breaking traps by West Virginia, moving the ball and finding open looks in the paint and from beyond the arc, helping senior guard Ramey score 13 points and Texas shoot 50 percent from the field and 54.5 percent from the three-point line in the first half.
Ramey finished with 15 points in one of his best performances of the season as senior guard Marcus Carr set his Texas career high with 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting in what Carr surely hopes will be his breakout performance for the Longhorns. Senior guard Andrew Jones added 14 points on 5-of-5 shooting at the free-throw line. Texas converted 15-of-16 attempts overall at the charity stripe.
Both teams started off in rhythm offensively, but by the under-12 timeout, both were in a scoreless drought. West Virginia had missed five straight shots in going scoreless for 3:24 while Texas had three turnovers over the previous 2:23.
After a goaltending call on the Mountaineers, Ramey hit an open three in the corner and a jumper along the baseline, matching his production from the start of the game and hitting double digits in scoring.
Meanwhile, West Virginia was struggling with more turnovers and missed baskets — three turnovers over 2:37 and only two makes in their last 10 shots. Texas just wasn’t able to take advantage to turnovers by the visitors, converting eight by West Virginia into only four points and failing to score a transition basket by the under-eight timeout.
The Longhorns extended the lead to 10 points, the largest of the game, thanks to a 12-2 run over nearly six minutes that featured some strong team defense, including forcing a shot-clock violation.
Late in the first half, the frustration started to show for West Virginia in the midst of a streak that featured only two baskets over more than eight minutes as the turnovers crept up to 12 and the Texas lead reached 16 points. Five blocks helped the Mountaineers maintain some level of connection as the Longhorns struggled to finish around the rim consistently. West Virginia finished with nine total blocks.
The Texas defensive intensity didn’t subside early in the second half as the Longhorns put the game away — Carr forced a timeout after stealing an inbounds pass and converting the subsequent layup, giving West Virginia 13 turnovers against nine made baskets.
It was the offense that bogged down a bit, missing 8-of-9 shots, but hitting seven free throws during that stretch before West Virginia scored five straight points. Then the defense loosened up a bit after the Texas lead reached 28 points, allowing 8-of-9 shooting during a stretch midway through the second half. By that point, however, the game was already well out of reach.
So it wasn’t a complete performance by the Longhorns, but it was a business-like win against a short-handed team.
Texas returns to action on Tuesday against Kansas State in Manhattan.