Another one-point loss. Another court-storming sendoff. And No. 2 West Virginia absorbed another tough lesson in Lubbock.
No. 8 Texas Tech didn’t miss a shot over the final 8:04 during a 7-for-7 finish that enabled a 72-71 win over the Mountaineers and forged a four-way tie atop the Big 12.
Despite Jevon Carter’s 28 points and Esa Ahmad’s 18 in his return from a half-season suspension, West Virginia (15-2, 4-1) couldn’t maintain an 11-point second-half lead in the first contest between top-10 teams at United Supermarket Arena.
Keenan Evans scored 20 points to pace the Red Raiders (15-2, 4-1), none bigger or more improbable than his off-balance, line-drive jumper from the top of the key that widened the gap to 70-66 with 39 seconds left.
Florida transfer Brandone Francis provided Texas Tech with an enormous boost — a career-high 17 points that were 13 more than his season average. He was 5-of-6 from the floor as the Red Raider shot 5o percent overall and 58-percent after halftime.
“They beat us off the dribble and we didn’t guard the ball-screen,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, whose team had reeled off 15 consecutive wins. “And in today’s game that’s all there is. That’s what everybody does, because that’s how you can get to the free-throw line.”
While Texas Tech capitalized on its foul shooting — stroking 24-of-28 — Press Virginia’s foul problems clearly diminished its defensive intensity. An in-your-space squad that feeds off turnovers forced only three in the second-half when Huggins tried 1-3-1 and 2-3 zones.
“I don’t know how you’re supposed to play aggressively when Lamont West has three (fouls), Wes Harris has four, Sags has four, JC has four, Dax has five and Beetle has three,” Huggins said. “I mean, those are the guys that we play. How hard can you play when everyone’s in foul trouble?”
Carter picked up his fourth foul with 5:40 left but stuck around to tie the game at 65-all with a 3-pointer. His final basket, a 3 with 1 second left, made it a one-point game but West Virginia could not foul fast enough on the inbound pass.
“It was an emotional game for us,” said Beard, whose team improved to 12-0 at home this season. “We’ve got to stay humble, man. Just trying to stay part of the race.”
With Kansas winning by one over K-State and Oklahoma edging TCU in overtime, four teams are deadlocked atop the Big 12 after five games. The next 13 games of the round-robin promise more white-knuckle drama, starting with the Jayhawks visiting Morgantown on Monday night.
Numbers, notes, etc.
After the Mountaineers led 47-36, Texas Tech doubled its point total over the final 12:28. … While Sagaba Konate grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds, he failed to block a shot for only the second time this season. He received a quick hook with 16 minutes left in the game after heaving up a 20-footer when he found himself trapped with the ball at the top of the key. … West Virginia came close but still has never won three consecutive road games in six Big 12 seasons. Nor has it started any season 5-0 in the league. … Despite the game looking like a mild upset in the AP rankings, Texas Tech was a 4-point favorite.
Ahmad’s 34 minutes were the second-most on either team (behind Carter’s 39). The junior forward shot 6-of-12 from the floor, including two 3s, and grabbed six rebounds.
“For not playing for 16 games, I thought he came out and played pretty well,” Huggins said.
Freshman Teddy Allen, projected to see reduced playing time after Ahmad’s return, plays five minutes in the first half and none in the second.
Huggins likened the situation to Wes Harris playing only six minutes in Tuesday’s win over Baylor.
“Teddy’s attitude allowed Teddy not to play,” Huggins said. “We’ve got great, great guys … but we’re all in this together, and if you think you’re not in this with us, then go do something else.”
Allen came in averaging 9.1 points but failed to score in his last two games.
“That’s a three-turnover second half against the same pressure. We handled it. We stayed the course.” — Texas Tech coach Chris Beard