Despite the having more than their fair share of difficulties finding scoring success against the No. 14 West Virginia Mountaineers’ swarming defense, the No. 4 Texas Longhorns escaped Morgantown with yet another win, courtesy of a last-second three from Andrew Jones to lift the Longhorns to a 72-70 victory.
Early on, though, it seemed as if Texas was well on its way to victory as West Virginia wasn’t itself out of the gates.
Texas wasted no time asserting itself in the paint, as Courtney Ramey, Jones and Matt Coleman III each took turns beating their man off the dribble for easy layups. When West Virginia quickly adjusted to ensure help, Coleman and and Ramey adjusted as well, punishing the help by tossing alley-oops to Jericho Sims and Greg Brown III, respectively, to lift the Longhorns to an early 11-6 edge with all but one of those points — a Coleman free throw — coming in the paint.
Moments later, Ramey attacked and added another layup for yet another two points in the paint, giving Texas a 13-8 lead entering the first media timeout.
From that point, though, things became much more difficult inside for the Horns, as the Mountaineers started swarming in the paint — and outside as well — putting a lid on the rim and forcing a trio of Texas turnovers. Meanwhile, a Miles McBride three and a pair of threes from Taz Sherman, who surpassed his season average of 12 with 13 in a single half, led the way for a 10-0 Mountaineers run to capture an 18-13 edge. That lead quickly evaporated, though, as one of Andrew Jones’ three first-half threes capped a 6-0 Texas run in response to give Texas the lead, 19-18, entering the under-12 media timeout.
The Mountaineer defense only continued to overwhelm out of the break, forcing Ramey, Jones and Brown to each miss attempts on Texas’ first possession. The next time down, though, Ramey remained aggressive, finding more points in the paint with another layup before Sean McNeil and Jones exchanged threes.
Nevertheless, Texas couldn’t quite recapture the lead the rest of the half, nearly doing so on another Jones three, which saw him eclipse the 1,000-point mark in his career, before West Virginia produced the final three points of the half to take a 40-36 edge into the break, despite 20 total points from Jones and Ramey.
The Mountaineers largely picked up where they left off coming out of the break with overwhelming defense and finding points in scrappy, physical fashion. Headlining that effort was WVU center Derek Culver, who snagged an offensive rebound and finished at the rim to record an early double double before bullying Brock Cunningham for another easy look at the rim. Texas’ only response during this stretch was Ramey, who remained in attack mode, finding two free throws and a tough layup after knifing through traffic to keep Texas within four at the Under 16 media timeout, 46-42.
Again, it was West Virginia who capitalized out of the break, as McBride connected on a three before McNeil blew past Cunningham for a layup, and suddenly, the WVU lead ballooned to near double digits, 51-42. As soon as Texas chipped into that lead, McNeil found three more points by way of the free throw line, and WVU’s press paid dividends afterwards, forcing a Coleman turnover moments after the inbounds.
But then again, Texas began to chip away.
Ramey and Coleman found their way into the teeth of the defense again, sparking what became a 12-3 Texas run as Kai Jones and Brown added six more points of their own to tie the contest at 57 after the Horns connected on their fifth straight shot. WVU, on the other hand, had missed eight of its last nine shots before McNeil splashed a three coming out of the timeout, sparking another 5-0 run for a five-point lead, 62-57. Jones then found his way into the paint for a layup, trimming the lead to just three — the margin WVU took into the under-four timeout moments later, 66-63.
With Brown unable to convert on the front end of his one-and-one opportunity out of the break, Texas didn’t find its next points until Ramey added two from the charity stripe with just over 2:30 remaining. Fortunately for the Horns, WVU struggled to score as well, with a pair of free throws from Matthews serving as their first points since the break. The next time down, though, Sherman continued his offensive showcase with another jumper, increasing WVU’s lead to 70-65 with only 1:28 remaining, but in familiar fashion, Texas responded.
Coleman found his way to the free throw line seconds later, and after Culver missed the front end of his one-and-one, Ramey quickly attacked the rim for another layup, pulling Texas within one, 70-69.
With the lead and less than a minute remaining, West Virginia had an ideal opportunity to seal the deal. Instead, despite two offensive rebounds that ultimately placed Matthews at the charity stripe with 10.8 remaining, Matthews missed both and the rest was a moment that only strengthened the belief that Texas is building something special this season.
Just as he had done all afternoon, Ramey attacked the rim, but this time as nearly the entire WVU squad collapsed on him, Ramey dished it to a wide open Jones, who added yet another game-winning to his career resume.
“I knew Courtney was being able to attack their defense and make them compromise the entire game,” Jones said. “We were fortunate that they missed a free throw in the front end of the one-and-one. So we just know to push the ball, push the pace, play our brand of basketball. Courtney drew defensive help and then he found me on the backside and I was ready to shoot.”
Jones finished with 16 points behind four three pointers, including the game winner — he was the only Longhorn to hit a three on Saturday. Ramey (19), Coleman (13), Brown (12), and Kai Jones (10) joined him in double figures. West Virginia enjoyed similar production, as Sherman led the way with 17 points off the bench, joined by Culver (14), McNeil (14), and McBride (12).
“We believe in each other and then we can win any time to game every game is important for us. We’re 4-0 in the league, so I think we’re tied for first place. Just to maintain this, our main objective is to win the league, so we have to win games like this against good teams and we have another good team coming to our place in Texas Tech.”
With their sixth straight win, Texas improved to 10-1 overall and 4-0 in Big 12 play ahead of their Wednesday evening meeting with No. 18 Texas Tech.