West Virginia rode Jevon Carter's 21 points and red-shot shooting early to withstand a Texas-sized effort from the Longhorns in a 63-53 win that advanced the second-seeded Mountaineers to the semifinals of the Big 12 Championship.
WVU built a 10-point lead early in the game, then watched as 10-seed Texas pulled back into the contest in trying to stage a second straight upset after advancing past seven-seed Texas Tech in the opening round on Wednesday. But despite stagnant offense and the proverbial lid on the basket late, the Mountaineers made enough plays down the stretch to secure a third win over UT in as many series games this season.
Credit Carter. The point guard, named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, came up huge on the other end, hitting a season-best five three-pointers to pace the Mountaineers while still showcasing his trademark stifling man defense. Elijah Macon chipped in 10 rebounds and and eight points, while Nate Adrian had nine boards and six points to go with four assists, three blocks and a steal.
"We stopped running offense at times," said Carter, who amassed his fourth 20-plus point game of the season, and his third in six games. "Stopped passing, started dribbling a lot. We always say, it's about us. You can't play the next game unless you win the current game, so that was the message to the team."
Still, it was a pedestrian performance at best. The Mountaineers (25-7) were out of sync on both ends at times, and struggled - like most teams - to deal with the Longhorns' length. UT pushed WVU away from the bucket in stretches, and whenever the outside shooting finally cooled, UT made it a game, getting within four points at 50-46 with 8:30 left to play after WVU led by 13 just seven minutes earlier. But after a pair of free throws and a Macon putback, Carter boosted the lead back to double digits with a huge three-pointer.
It was, in hindsight, arguably the play of the game. Texas inbounded to Kendal Yancy, who was stripped by Adrian. Falling out of bounds, Adrian kicked the ball to Carter, who squared up for a clean look from straight away. The ball swished through, extending the advantage to 57-46 with 6:34 remaining. It was Carter's last trey of the contest, and it proved a near fatal blow to the Longhorns, who never got closer than eight again.
"Nate did what he does," Carter said. "He came up with the steal, saved it to me, I caught it and noticed I was wide open and I just shot it."
Deep into the heart of Texas. UT managed a three by Andrew Jones to cut the deficit to eight with 5:34 to play before both teams went stone cold over the final 4:20, combining to score just four points via a series of missed free throws, point blank looks and in-and-out jumpers that served to set offensive basketball back considerably.
"We obviously didn't play very well today," WVU head coach Bob Huggins said. "Didn't shoot it very well from the free throw line. Didn't make lay-ups. I think sometimes guys want to play the whole game, but they take two-thirds of the game off when they try to play the whole game. We're trying to win. There's no sense in playing if you're not trying to win."
Mission accomplished, at least in that sense. There was a palpable sense of having done what was needed, but not what was desired in this one. The Mountaineers moved on, securing their 25th win against just seven setbacks. But this effort and execution will fall far short against the winner of Baylor and Kansas State in the semis.
"They were the more aggressive team," Texas head coach Shaka Smart said. "Over the course of the game, I think there was a cumulative effect of the way they play. We got a lot of open looks that didn't go in. They shot the ball better from outside. They have a great chance to win this tournament and make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament."
First things first. By avoiding the upset - which bit top-seed Kansas in a loss to TCU earlier in the day - West Virginia advances to its second straight Big 12 Championship semifinal. The Mountaineers also moved to 59-1 in their last 60 games when holding foes below 69 points.
West Virginia and Texas are now tied at 6-6 all-time in Big 12 play and 1-1 in the Big 12 Championship.
The Longhorns (11-22) lost eight of nine and 15 of their last 19 to end the season. They were led by 13 points from Jones and 11 from Yancy, but were out-shot and out-rebounded. Texas went without a field goal over the final 5:34 of play, while the teams combined to miss 21 of 39 free throws.