Mountaineers Force 23 Turnovers, Free Throw Woes Continue In Four Point Victory

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia outplayed Texas A&M in Saturday's 81-77 victory, but poor free throw shooting almost doomed the Mountaineers down the stretch.

Both teams shot the ball well to begin Saturday afternoon's contest but it quickly became evident that West Virginia's pressure would be problematic for Texas A&M and specifically Aggie point guard Chris Collins. The Mountaineers forced the Aggies into a handful of early turnovers, but A&M hit seven of its first 11 buckets and battled its way to an 18-18 tie.

Despite shooting a blistering 64 percent form the field to start the contest, the Aggies eventually cooled down and West Virginia's vaunted full court pressure started to take effect. Tied at 18, both teams put together small runs - the Mountaineers scored eight straight before A&M quickly answered with an 9-2 run of its own, but 28-27 was as close as the Aggies would get for the rest of the contest.

The last four minutes of the first half saw the Mountaineers put together a 17-0 run that was fueled by a number of forced turnovers. West Virginia rattled A&M point guard Chris Collins and on the other end of the floor Jevon Carter finally got going. The junior guard hadn't scored in the first 16 minutes of play but he scored all eight of his first half points in a 17-0 West Virginia run that put the Mountaineers up 45-29 at the half. All in all, the Mountaineers forced TAMU into 14 turnovers in the first 20 minutes of the contest and that proved to be the main catalyst in the final stretch of the half.

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Although the 17-0 run looked like it could be a knockout punch, the Aggies got back up, kept fighting and made the game competitive. A&M's Admon Gilder hit a number of buckets to bring the Aggies back within striking distance and with 9:25 left to play the Aggies cut the Mountaineers' lead to 59-53. A&M's run surely gave West Virginia's fans flashbacks to the recent loss to Oklahoma in which the Mountaineers blew a 16 point lead, but Jevon Carter scored five quick points to push the lead back out to double figures and ease the worries of the near sellout Coliseum crowd. 

The Mountaineers held a double digit lead for the next several minutes of play but several missed free throws and defensive lapses down the stretch enabled A&M to get back in the game and the Aggies cut the lead to three with under a minute remaining. Fortunately for West Virginia, Esa Ahmad hit the final two free throws of the game (the Mountaineers were 12-23 or 52 percent from the charity stripe) and put the Mountaineers up 81-77 with less than five seconds left in regulation. That score held, but there seemed to be a disappointed feeling among both the players and the fans as West Virginia let a 20 point second half lead dwindle to just four. 

"Huggs really got on us," said center Brandon Watkins. "We just have to stick with it and keep our minds in the game because after a while people's minds just go. (We were) nervous, that was too close for me."

A large reason the Mountaineers got their 17th win of the season was the play of Jevon Carter, who registered 19 points and went 4-of-5 from three point range. Esa Ahmad also added 14 for the Mountaineers just days after scoring a career high 27 against Kansas. West Virginia will resume Big 12 play on Tuesday evening when it travels to Iowa State.

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