A 2-for-7 shooting night complete with a foul-out and a gash through the right eyebrow doesn’t typically elicit such elation, but Deniz Kilicli — lovable, struggling, bloody Deniz — was just so happy to see his teammates, well, happy.
West Virginia had just beaten Texas 57-53 in a most improbable manner, erasing a 10-point deficit during the final 3:14, then erasing the gut-punch of a last-second Texas 3-pointer that forced overtime.
“Morale is good,” said Kilicli, smiling wide even on a night when he relinquished his starting role for the first time this season. “Now everybody’s going to be more in a good mood.
“When you’re losing, man, even if you love each other, people get frustrated and you start fighting. I don’t want to do that. I’m not that type of guy. I’m a peaceful guy.”
Kilicli chortled at that last part, though it’s accurate. For all the ominous impressions levied by the 6-foot-9 Turk — the MMA brawn, the caveman beard, the grace of Sasquatch — he just wants his teammates to get along, to enjoy the journey.
And the journey is so much more pleasant when lined with scenes like the one inside the visitors locker room at the Erwin Center, where freshman Eron Harris said of the whooping and hollering: “It felt like we won the national championship.”
The Mountaineers didn’t cut down any nets in Austin, and if not for putrid 11-of-25 foul shooting by their stunned Longhorn counterparts, Kilicli and Co. would have been cut down themselves. But don’t cry about poor shooting to WVU, which was making a robust 25 percent of its field-goal tries right up until the late-game surge.
The three straight 3-pointers that fueled the comeback were splashy, but the players in that joyous locker room seemed prouder of the scrappiness that kept WVU within striking distance.
“Hopefully we keep this style of play up; this is how we’ve go to play,” Kilicli said. “We don’t have people who can, like, shoot the ball, you know, in a good percentage. I mean, nobody.”
Jabarie Hinds can attest after making only 4-of-18 from the floor Wednesday. West Virginia’s game plan obviously was not constructed around the starting five’s lowest-percentage shooter (.318) more than doubling the shot attempts of his teammates. That quirk transpired because point guard and leading scorer Juwan Staten found himself on Coach Bob Huggins’ ornery side (and on the bench the entire second half), leaving a void that Hinds aggressively tried to fill.
He didn’t chuck up bad shots. Hinds took, for the most part, rhythmic, clock-appropriate 3-pointers — he just happened to miss 6-of-7. And when rare cracks surfaced in UT’s perimeter defense, he challenged the shot-swatters with contact-heavy drives to the rim. Again, not much success, but kudos to him for absorbing some valiant spills when he could have settled for less-contusive jumpers.
“This was the toughest game I’ve been in,” Hinds said. “By far.”
And this time, West Virginia was the toughest team. Take those atrocious shooting stats, ball them up and miss the wastebasket completely — the Mountaineers believe they finally comprehend the formula that carried previous Huggins teams.
“That Final Four team had games worse than this shooting-wise,” Kilicli said. “It happened, man, but you found a way to win. On that Final Four team, it was like, if you keep people under 70, we’re winning the game.
“I’ve been here three years and we never had a team that shot the ball great. We rebound the ball and we guard people. That’s what we do.”