With just a couple seconds left, Juwan Staten tried to find a way to get to the rim, but to no avail. That was when the senior point guard pulled the ball back out, looked to his left and found Tarik Phillip.
Phillip lofted a three, a desperation three as he would go on to call it after the game, with a defender in his face. And with less than 30 seconds to play, the ball went through – propelling West Virginia to a 68-62 victory against Buffalo in the NCAA tournament’s Round of 64.
“I wasn’t (open) at all,” Phillip said. “(Staten) usually makes something out of nothing, so I thought he was going to get it and take it to the rim. There have been many games he’s made big plays for us, so I thought he’d make something out of nothing again.”
The sophomore had been playing better as of late and stepped up in a big way to help boost the Mountaineers to victory by providing some key minutes off the bench.
“He's that kind of kid. He's a guy who loves that moment,” Huggins said. “Probably the only one who wanted Tarik to shoot it was Tarik. He had to. It was the end of the clock. But he relishes that kind of moment. And we're fortunate to have a couple of guys that do.
West Virginia controlled the game early on, using its stingy defense to force six turnovers in the first five minutes and jump out to a 14-5 lead against the Bulls.
Buffalo wasn’t able to figure out a way to manufacture points in its halfcourt offense against the Mountaineers – missing nine of its first 11 shots from the field and falling behind by as many as 13 points within the first 10 minutes of the game. But, as it usually goes in the NCAA tournament, things weren’t over from there. The Bulls were able to slowly work their way back into the game – cutting the Mountaineer lead to just three points before WVU went on a 7-0 run to end the half up 36-26.
But the Bulls erased the deficit quickly as the final 20 minutes opened up, going on a 7-0 run in the first two minutes to bring the momentum to the back-and-forth pace that it remained at for much of the rest of the game.
In the end though, the Mountaineers were just a little too much for Buffalo, as they made big plays in the situations where they needed to convert to be able to come away with the win.
With WVU in the driver’s seat with a five-point lead after Phillip’s three, UB missed two attempts from beyond the arc to preserve the Mountaineer win – which was sealed by one final Gary Browne free throw with 20 seconds to play.
“We didn’t want to lose, that was the main thing,” Phillip said after West Virginia won its first postseason game in eight attempts – a streak that stretched back to a Round of 64 win against Clemson in the 2011 NCAA tournament.
“We just didn’t want to lose.”
Sophomore big man Devin Williams led the Mountaineers with a game-high 17 points and nine rebounds. The Cincinnati native scored 10 of those points in the second half and finished out his solid performance despite going through a tough battle in the paint.
Juwan Staten scored 15 points and notched seven assists in his first game back from his knee injury that sidelined him for four games, while freshman Daxter Miles was the other Mountaineer in double figures with 10 points.
WVU will return to action in the Round of 32 Sunday at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus against the winner of Maryland-Valparaiso. Game time has yet to be determined.