West Virginia was in a scoring funk. Actually, both the Mountaineers and Longhorns were. Texas had cut West Virginia's lead to 59-51 at the 5:34 mark, but over the next 4:56 of play, only Nathan Adrian's tip-in dented the scoreboard. The game devolved into a rock fight, with free throws and shots clanging off the rim with regularity. Over that stretch, the Mountaineers missed four free throws, two of which were the front end of one-and-ones. All of them came from normally reliable free throw shooters -- Jevon Carter, Tarik Phillip and Nathan Adrian.With the guards suffering a cold stretch, it was up to Elijah Macon to steady the ship.
He did just that, nailing two freebies with 38 seconds to go to secure the win. That capped an eight point, ten rebound performance that went unnoticed in the shadow of Carter's 21 points, but was one that had a huge influence on the game. The free throws were just a part of it, but they were symbolic of how far Macon has progressed this year. He's 14-20 from the line in his last ten games.
"I've put in a lot of hard work on it and now that it's paying off, it feels good," he said, before noting with a sly smile that he's now the one doling out advice from the line.
"I talk to [the guards] all the time now, and I'm trying to help them out a little bit. Kind of like a shooting doctor."
While its debatable just how much WVU's perimeter players are listening to Macon's fun advice about matters at the free throw line, there's no doubt they are taking notice of his overall play. He contributed one of the bigger shots of the second half, banking in one of his patented mid-range shots to give WVU a 54-46 lead with 6:46 to play. That was part of a mini-burst that put the Mountaineers back in front by 11 points, and helped them weather a late dry spell that kept the game in doubt until the final seconds.
"I feel like we started to get into their zone a little better in the second half. The more we got to the basket, things were good," said Macon, who also had 10 rebounds and a pair of assists on his very efficient stat line. "They're kind of like Baylor. Once you net inside you have to pump-fake those guys. You can't just go in and shoot a layup. They're going to get a lot of blocks, so playing against their length would be the biggest things and getting that ball into the middle. That's the hardest thing playing against those guys."
The rebounds were big too, coming as they did against the big Texas front line, and especially against Jarrett Allen, the freshman talent who might have played his final game for the Longhorns, as he's a sure first-round NBA pick if he decides to leave school. Macon and his mates at center helped battle Allen on even terms, and eventually wore down the young Texas standout. WVU outrebounded the Horns 42-39.
"I feel like we got into him more and more and took him out of the game," the junior center observed. "I think we kind of wore them down. He was the biggest threat on the court, and we had to take him out of the game."