KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Dejan Kravic’s tip-in with 0.4 seconds left carried Texas Tech to a 71-69 win over West Virginia in the Big 12 tournament opener Wednesday night.
“You always see that on TV but you never expect it to happen to you,” said Kravic, who jumped around at midcourt with his teammates and then did more dancing and yelling in the locker room. “We let all our emotions out in there.”
The scene was far more somber around the eighth-seeded Mountaineers (13-19), who overcame a 14-point first-half deficit to lead on several occasions in the second half. Yet West Virginia still managed to lose its seventh straight game, and it did so against a ninth-seeded Texas Tech team it swept during the regular season.
Terry Henderson paced West Virginia with 12 points, while Aaric Murray had 11 points, eight rebounds and blocked a shot on Tech’s final possession. But the swatted ball caromed toward the corner where Texas Tech’s Jamal Williams missed a 3-point try leading to Kravic’s tip-in.
Instead there was enough time left for Texas Tech’s 14th offensive rebound, which Kravic tapped in.
“As much time as we spend on rebounding the basketball and blocking out, you would think that at a time like that maybe you try to get the ball,” said WVU coach Bob Huggins.
“As much time as we spend on rebounding the basketball and blocking out, you would think that at a time like that maybe you try to get the ball.” — West Virginia coach Bob Huggins
Jaye Crockett had 18 points for Texas Tech (11-19), and Ty Nurse scored 12 after entering the day averaging 2.3 per game. (Nurse scored 14 in Texas Tech’s 77-61 loss to West Virginia in Lubbock on Feb. 2.) Jordan Tolbert added 11 points before fouling out with 2:26 left.
The Red Raiders advanced to face top-seeded Kansas on Thursday afternoon, while the Mountaineers likely will pack up their gear and call it a season — though there is a miniscule chance WVU might buy its way into the CBI, a third-tier tourney behind the NIT in the postseason pecking order.
The Red Raiders were 8-of-12 from 3-point range (including three by Nurse) and shot 46 percent overall. WVU made 51 percent but was outrebounded 31-28 by Texas Tech, including seven by Kravic.
Deniz Kilicli scored 10 points for West Virginia, a far cry from the 25 he scored against Texas Tech a month ago in Morgantown. The senior forward was fouled by Kravic and sank the tying free throw with 20.1 seconds left, but his second attempt lipped out, giving Tech the chance to hold for the final shot of regulation.
“Before it came to that (last possession), I should have made the free throw,” Kilicli said. “It went in and out. I shot it just like the first one, but it went in and out. We could have still been playing.”
WVU was saddled by another slow start, making two baskets and committing four turnovers on its first 12 possessions and falling behind 16-4. Texas Tech eventually led 30-16 before the Mountaineers closed to within 37-32 at the half.
MEMORIES OF MORGANTOWN
Crockett said the Red Raiders’ confidence was bolstered by a 66-64 loss at WVU on Feb. 16.
“All we were thinking about is the close one we had up there in West Virginia, and we came up short,” Crockett said. “And this time we kept fighting. We knew we had to keep fighting to beat these guys.”
In that Morgantown matchup, Tech point guard Josh Gray settled for a long 3-pointer on the final possession. Coach Chris Walker said he made sure his team was more aggressive this time.
“We end up being the beneficiary of a putback, which is rare for us.” — Coach Chris Walker, whose Texas Tech team was last in the Big 12 in rebounding margin this season
“Well, (the plan) wasn’t for Josh Gray to shoot a 3 again, that’s for sure,” Walker said. “We wanted him to drive the ball, drive the ball. They did a good job defending us, but we tried to make a play and we ended up getting a basket out of it.”
Gray’s driving, twisting shot was blocked by Murray, leading to the frantic final sequence.
“We ended up being the beneficiary of a putback, which is rare for us,” Walker said.
Indeed, Texas Tech entered the game last in the Big 12 in rebounding margin at minus-2.7 per game and eighth out of 10 teams in offensive rebounding percentage.
Kilicli, who sat out the final 13 seconds after Tech called timeout, watched the final possession transpire and described the rebounding breakdown.
“The guy (Gray) got blocked, so there’s a loose ball, but it’s OK though, because we switched,” Kilicli said. “And then the rotation guy didn’t go to the big man. I mean (Kravic) was wide open — there was nobody around him.”
The 6-foot-11 Kravic was born in Bosnia & Herzegovina before his family moved to Canada, where he was a three-year starter at his Ontario high school before playing two seasons at York University. He transferred to Texas Tech and sat out last season under NCAA rules.
The junior scored 22 points against against North Carolina A&T and grabbed a season-high 11 rebounds versus TCU, but has he ever experienced a game-deciding moment like the one that sank WVU?
“I don’t think so,” he said.
After Jordan Tolbert picked up his fifth foul with two minutes left — hacking Kilicli to prevent an easy layup — Kravic said the Red Raiders picked up the slack.
“We had to step it up as a team when J.T. came out — that’s our main player,” he said. “I mean, with him out, we’re not as good as a team. So we all had to step up. It was a team effort.”