AUSTIN, Texas — For nearly 37 minutes, West Virginia-Texas gave us the type of basketball showcase that made fans eager for spring football.
Then WVU suddenly surged to life, and before you could say “NIT” the Mountaineers not only erased a 10-point deficit but actually seized a 50-47 lead on freshman Eron Harris’ 3-pointer with 16 seconds left.
This was a monumental moment for Bob Huggins’ team, a stirring comeback, a season’s resurrection.
And it was completely undone 13 seconds later.
Texas forward Jonathan Holmes – abandoned in the corner when WVU’s Aaric Murray left to help on a double screen for UT’s top scorer Sheldon McClellan — caught the inbounds pass and launched the 3-point equalizer as Murray and teammate Dominique Rutledge tried too late to recover.
Swish-boom-dud. Texas sent the game to overtime and sent WVU into a moment of second-guessing. The Mountaineers seemed ripe for a collapse.
“We were a little bit down after they hit that 3,” admitted forward Kevin Noreen. “But Coach pulled us together and said ‘We’ve got them on the run. Let’s finish them off.’”
After Holmes’ end-of-regulation dagger turned WVU’s mood from glowing to glum, Huggins eschewed X’s and O’s in hopes of sending his players into overtime with a morale boost.
“We kind of had our heads down a bit, and we’ve done that this year when things weren’t going well for us,” he said. “So that was the conversation I had with them. There wasn’t much strategy going on. It was ‘Get your heads up and let’s go play.’”
The most uplifting words, however, didn’t come from Huggins, but rather from Murray.
“Aaric said ‘We’re not going to lose this one,’ and that’s the first time I’ve seen him have that kind of focus,” Noreen said. “During games in the past, that 3 would have gotten to him. But to his credit, this time he was the one that kept us together.”
In the five-minute overtime period, Murray was at his best — contributing four points, four rebounds and two steals. His overall statline was 12 points, 10 rebounds and four steals.
Said Huggins: “I thought Aaric played a heck of a game.”