Daxter Miles’ pulled hamstring kept him in Morgantown, Jaysean Paige’s sprained ankle kept him on the bench, and No. 10 West Virginia couldn’t keep its grip on first place in the Big 12.
As much as the Mountaineers missed two of their top three scorers Tuesday night, those absences loomed equally crucial on defense when No. 24 Texas claimed an 85-78 victory to sweep the season series.
The Longhorns (17-9, 8-5) surged ahead in the first half on seven 3-pointers before widening their lead to 75-59 with 3:42 left. A 10-0 run gave late life to West Virginia (20-6, 9-4) and Jonathan Holton’s 3-point play off a putback closed the gap to 77-72 in the final 38 seconds.
Texas stabilized by making eight consecutive free throws from there, six from point guard Isaiah Taylor, who finished 13-of-13 at the line for a game-best 24 points.
“When Isaiah got fouled, he made them pay,” said Longhorns coach Shaka Smart, who probably would be selling the blueprint to breaking WVU’s press if Texas wasn’t paying him nearly $22 million over a six-year deal.
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins thought Tuesday’s secret was obvious:
“Pressure isn’t going to bother a lot of people when two of our guards are out. We can’t play the way we want to play if we don’t have enough guys, and we didn’t have enough people on the perimeter.”
“What was deflating was Jaysean on the bench with his ankle on ice. He’s been as good as anybody in the league the last few weeks.”
Paige was limited to 6 minutes—and failed to score for the first time this season—after stepping on the foot of teammate Elijah Macon during a dead-ball situation.
Tarik Phillip and Devin Williams picked up the offensive slack. The backup point guard produced 19 points and four assists, and Williams delivered his 26th career double-double at 18 points and 12 rebounds. But they also combined for eight turnovers, one more than the Longhorns’ team total.
“Pressure isn’t going to bother a lot of people when two of our guards are out. We can’t play the way we want to play if we don’t have enough guys, and we didn’t have enough people on the perimeter.” — Bob Huggins
After Texas players reportedly made light of “Press Virginia” following the win in Morgantown last month, Smart’s team navigated the pressure even better in the second meeting, committing just seven turnovers.
Taylor handed out seven assists helping Texas to its third-largest scoring output of the season.
“After the first 3 or 4 minutes, our guys did a great job attacking their pressure,” Smart said. “This is one of the best games I’ve seen Isaiah play. He steadied us.”
Whereas West Virginia forces 19.1 turnovers per game on average, they coaxed only 15 from Texas in two games combined.
That allowed Texas to execute its halfcourt offense to the tune of 10-of-22 shooting from 3-point range.
“We got tired and gave penetration,” Huggins said. “It was penetrate-and-pitch and they got step-in shots.”
West Virginia’s extended flirtation with a zone defense “was horrible,” according to the coach, who hoped Texas would shoot closer to its 33-percent season rate from 3.
“I really thought that was something we could go to to turn the game, but give (Texas) credit. They made shots,” he said.
Both teams made them at a clip exceeding 60 percent in the first half, but freshman Eric Davis Jr. enjoyed his best stretch of the season by making four 3s as Texas led at the break, 45-36.
Davis finished with 15 points, one off his season high.
“Isaiah has been a great teammate, telling me I’d be needed down the stretch,” Davis said. “It’s target practice when you’ve got a great guard like him.”
“(The spark from Davis) was huge. It won us the game. … That was probably the most important stretch of the game, because they were up as much as eight points early.” — Shaka Smart
Prince Ibeh flushed an alley-oop dunk for his only points and grabbed just two rebounds, but the Longhorns’ 6-11 center blocked six shots.
Holton, coming off the bench a second time after his reinstatement from a suspension, finished with 10 points and eight boards. Though WVU dominated the rebounding 40-22, it lost to Texas for the seventh time in nine games since joining the Big 12.
The Longhorns improved to 6-0 at home in league play and 3-0 against ranked visitors at the Erwin Center. West Virginia, now trailing Kansas by a game in the standings, hopes that Texas homecourt edge continues when the Jayhawks visit Feb. 29.