There are plenty of adjectives to describe West Virginia's 63-53 win over Texas. Pretty isn't one of them. The Mountaineers shot just 29 percent from the field in the second half, committed several turnovers in the first half and shot 50 percent (10 of 20) from the free throw line. But that was a Mona Lisa like performance compared to what Texas did on the other end of the floor. The Longhorns shot 35 percent from the field on the night, went nine straight minutes without making a field goal and finished a putrid 42 percent (8-of-19) from the charity stripe.
It comes as no surprise that West Virginia won an ugly game, it's something that has been a staple in the "Press Virginia" era over the last three seasons, but it wasn't the tried and true methods of out-shooting the opposition or forcing a bevy of turnovers that enabled the Mountaineers to win. In fact, Texas committed just 14 turnovers on the night and shot 57 field goals compared to 54 for the Mountaineers. So what pushed West Virginia past the Longhorns? some hard-nosed team defense and the play of upperclassmen Jevon Carter and Nathan Adrian down the stretch.
Carter started out the game red hot and hit his first three three-pointers of the contest en route to scoring 16 of West Virginia's 39 first half points. Although his offensive numbers weren't nearly as gaudy in the second half (the junior scored just five points), he was his usual self on the defensive end of the court and played a large part in making Texas look completely inept on offense (the Longhorns scored just 23 points in the second half). And as he put it, he was just simply dialed in on making the Longhorns uncomfortable.
"Our job is to just make them uncomfortable and speed them up and turn them over," explained Carter. "We want them to play up-tempo, that's our job. Just speed them up."
Adrian, to no one's surprise, did a little bit of everything for the Mountaineers as the senior scored just six points but hauled down nine rebounds, blocked three shots and dished out four assists. There was one stretch in particular that stood out in the second half when the senior notched a pair of assists and stole an inbound pass in a matter of seconds to give West Virginia an 11 point lead. The sequence, which was quintessential Nate Adrian, was probably the turning point in the contest as Texas never got within seven the rest of the way. There was, however, a late scare for Mountaineer fans when the power forward got tangled up with Jarrett Allen and came out holding his left shoulder, but Adrian noted his shoulder is just a little sore and the ice pack he was sporting in postgame interviews was just a precautionary measure.
While the play of Carter and Adrian was enough to mask some Mountaineer deficiencies on Thursday night, there are no doubt some minor concerns that need addressed going forward. The most glaring concern is the lack of production that West Virginia has received from the small forward position in back-to-back games. Esa Ahmad was 1-of-6 from the field tonight and 1-of-4 from the line while Lamont West played just three minutes. The below average wing play resulted in a decision to play three guards for most of the night, something Bob Huggins surely doesn't want to make a habit of going forward.
The other two areas are free throw shooting (something West Virginia had done better of late until tonight) and rebounding. The Mountaineers were just 10-of-20 from the stripe and allowed Texas's bigs to pull down 15 boards on the offensive end of the floor. While it was encouraging to see Adrian haul in nine rebounds and Elijah Macon pull down 10 boards, West Virginia must consistently battle on the glass for 40 minutes to beat teams like Baylor (who is the only team to defeat the Mountaineers in the last six games).
"It was just effort," said Adrian. "(Early) we weren't being conscious of boxing out and keeping them off of the offensive glass but we fixed a few things and kept them off of the offensive glass."
Going forward, the Mountaineers will need a much more consistent overall performance if it hopes to win the Big 12 tournament and make a serious run in the NCAA tourney. The combination of Carter and Adrian was enough to overshadow sloppy play against an 11 win Texas team tonight, but it must do much better in the future.
"We can't keep playing like his if we want to go far," said Jevon Carter. "We're going to have to clean it up but we got an ugly win and that's better than a good loss."