These Mountaineers? They came, they saw, they conquered. West Virginia once again used its trademark pressure, but this time hit shots to cruise into the Big 12 semifinals with an 86-66 win over TCU on Thursday. WVU shot a red-hot 56 percent from the field, 46 percent from three-point range, in securing its first conference tournament win since the 2010 Big East championship.
And that was really the major difference. The Horned Frogs managed to hang close in rebounding, free throws attempted and second chance points, and the teams even managed the same amount of shots with 54 apiece. But the game never really felt in doubt, West Virginia jumping to an 18-8 lead over the first six-plus minutes while hitting its first four three-pointers.
WVU made 11 in all, and that barrage, combined with 18 points and 13 rebounds from Devin Williams - his Big 12-leading 14th double-double of the season - was more than enough to wilt a TCU team clinging to its season after surviving the first round with a win over Texas Tech. The Frogs (12-21, 2-16) had little answer for the sharp shooting, at times leaving Tarik Phillip and Jaysean Piage open. The duo combined to hit five threes, and Jevon Carter continued to emerge at point guard, knocking down 5-of-8 shots overall, including a trio of threes, over a team-high 32 minutes. All three players finished in double figures, giving the Mountaineers four including Williams.
It was all too much for the 10th seed, which could remain tied for only 17 seconds before WVU took over and created a 47-36 halftime advantage. That eventually ballooned to 20 points three times, the last the final margin. The Mountaineers (25-7, 13-5) led for 39:43 of the 40 minutes, and the second-seed will now meet the winner of Iowa State and Oklahoma at 9 p.m. Friday.
That was really the gist of the game, and if you're looking for a new angle on this team, keep looking. Bob Huggins' group is going to play pressure defense, rebound, turn foes over and attempt to get more shots. That's the winning formula, and it's not going to change. But there were issues. West Virginia made just 15 of their 25 shots at the line. They forced only 14 turnovers while committing 17 themselves.
They outrebounded an sub-par foe by just four, and lost on the offensive glass 14-12, though that was largely because so many of the Mountaineers' shots went in. It will, as assistant coach Larry Harrison pointed out afterward, win no beauty contests. This was a workmanlike effort from a team that knows it has bigger things on the horizon. And make no mistake, when TCU threatened, cutting a one-time 14-point lead to eight, West Virginia responded with three consecutive three-pointers itself to push the lead comfortable back to double digits with nine minutes left.
It was elementary from there, both teams simply playing out the string while heading in opposite directions. Frankly, the tournament has now begun for the Mountaineers, who are in prime position. Texas is gone, having bowed to Baylor. And the quarterfinal between Iowa State and Oklahoma will provide a winnable game for WVU, and with a touch more rest after having played the early game on Thursday.
It adds up to having the desired outcome - and a first-ever Big 12 Tournament win - albeit with a very pedestrian performance. West Virginia will take it. After all, it's not thrive and advance, but survive and advance.