No. 6 West Virginia Mountaineers survive Texas Tech Red Raiders

By George Watson, The Sports Xchange  |  Jan. 24, 2016 at 12:52 AM
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LUBBOCK, Texas -- Kansas and Baylor had come into United Supermarkets Arena on consecutive weekends and survived upset bids by an up-and-coming Texas Tech team.

For all of about 39 minutes Saturday, it appeared No. 6 West Virginia would not be so lucky. But a young team that suffered frustrating losses in similar situations a year ago is now finding a way to come out on top.

Junior guard Tarik Phillip scored eight of his 20 points as part of a game-ending 8-0 run over the final 1:14, and the Mountaineers rallied to survive Texas Tech's upset bid for an 80-76 victory over the Red Raiders at United Supermarkets Arena.

"We were lucky, but we've been unlucky sometimes, too, so we'll take it," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. "Tarik just has a lot of courage and he has a tendency to make plays to win games. So we kind of want guys who make plays to win games in there at the end of games."

Senior guard Jaysean Paige, who came off the bench to score a game-high 22 points, started the rally by hitting both ends of a 1-on-1 with 1:14 left in between 3-pointers from sophomore guard Daxter Miles Jr. and Phillip. That erased a four-point lead by the Red Raiders (12-6, 2-5 Big 12) and helped West Virginia (16-5, 5-2) break a two-game losing streak.

It is also the third straight Saturday loss at home for Texas Tech, which started the season 11-1 and has dropped five of its last six games, four of those to ranked opponents.

Sophomore forward Zach Smith led the Red Raiders with 18 points and guard senior guard Toddrick Gotcher added 12 while sophomore guard Justin Gray and junior forward Aaron Ross added 11 each.

But Texas Tech went scoreless over the final 1:10 of the game, committing two turnovers around what would have been a go-ahead 3-pointer by Gotcher with 11 seconds to play.

"It's a tough loss for us," Texas Tech coach Tubby Smith said. "I thought our kids played hard. We didn't always play smart but we played hard today."

The Red Raiders used six straight points, including a put-back, crowd-charging dunk from Smith with 3:12 to play to take a 72-67 lead before the Mountaineers turned up the heat with their press to score 13 of the final 16 points of the game.

Miles started the comeback with a 3-pointer over Gotcher with 1:54 left before Texas Tech answered with two free throws from sophomore guard Keenan Evans. Phillip's trey, also over Gotcher, pulled WVU to within 76-75, and his steal to start a three-point play put the Mountaineers up for good with 24.5 seconds to play.

"We just didn't get the stops when we needed to," Gotcher said. "The message was run them off the three and they hit two big threes over me."

The Mountaineers used their vaunted press defense to create havoc for a still-learning Red Raiders team, forcing 27 turnovers and outrebounding Texas Tech 25-22. The Mountaineers converted those turnovers into 23 points and were able to overcome Texas Tech, shooting 32 of 34 from the free-throw line.

But it took the Mountaineers every bit of the full 40 minutes to pull it off. It was apparent to Huggins from the beginning that was the kind of game his team was in for after two tough losses.

"It's human nature to be down or not be able to have the same enthusiasm we had for those two games," Huggins said of losses to Oklahoma and Texas coming off the emotional victory over Kansas 11 days ago. "I thought we played hard today. I knew we were not ready to play but I didn't know what to do to try to fix it. I tried. I tried to talk to them about putting so much time and effort into this. But this is a great bunch who works at it to do what they're supposed to do and they do it as a team."

It appeared the Mountaineers had figured it out well beforehand when they took a 10-point lead with just under 5 minutes left in the first half.

But the Red Raiders came right back to close the half on a 15-3 run to take a 43-30 lead at the intermission.

Tech, however, could not sustain the momentum, not in the wake of West Virginia shooting 54.2 percent from the field in the second half.

Senior forward Jonathan Holton added 13 points and Miles chipped in 11 for the Mountaineers.

"That's the good thing about this team," Huggins said. "(Senior forward Devin Williams) gets in foul trouble, (sophomore forward Elijah Macon) comes in and answers the bell. (Sophomore guard Jevon Carter) gets in foul trouble, Tarik plays well. Jaysean hadn't been playing very well and he played pretty well today. We're going to keep trying to ham-and-egg it as long as we can."

NOTES: Texas Tech junior F Matthew Temple earned his first career start in place of sophomore C Norense Odiase, who is out six weeks with a broken foot suffered in Monday's win over TCU. Temple, a walk-on who has played in 10 games this season, picked up two fouls in the game's first 33 seconds and was replaced by junior F Aaron Ross. ... Texas Tech coach Tubby Smith, with his depth in the paint depleted due to Odiase's injury, pulled the redshirt off F Rokas Ulvydas, a freshman from Kaunas, Lithuania. Ulvydas scored his first career points on a pair of free throws midway through the first half. ... West Virginia has won eight of the nine meetings with the Red Raiders and its seventh straight win in the series since joining the Big 12 Conference. The Mountaineers are undefeated in four trips to Lubbock.

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