Mountaineers come undone late, suffer third straight loss at No. 18 Texas Tech, 78-65

West Virginia stuck with No. 18 Texas Tech for better than 35 minutes of Saturday’s matchup at United Supermarkets Arena.

However, for the second straight game, the Mountaineers faltered down the stretch, and the Red Raiders closed on a 19-9 run over the final 4:04 to send West Virginia to its third consecutive loss, 78-65.

Veteran head coach Bob Huggins felt his team’s inability to execute what it was asked to run offensively played a large part in the outcome and the Mountaineers’ 17 turnovers, 10 of which came after halftime.

“A lot of them are unforced and we didn’t run what we practiced,” Huggins said. “I went over it two days in practice. We went over it before the game and during every timeout and they still never ran what I asked them to run.”

The Mountaineers were also plagued by a lack of rebounding, with Texas Tech holding a 39-29 advantage on the glass, including 17-8 on the offensive end.

“We just give people way too many shots,” said Huggins, who watched the Red Raiders attempt 59 field goals to the Mountaineers’ 52.

There was little flow throughout the contest, with 50 fouls whistled between the two teams. Thirty fouls were called on West Virginia, which had four players — Jalen Bridges, Malik Curry, Gabe Osabuohien and Pauly Paulicap — disqualified for fouling out.

The Red Raiders converted 25-of-36 free throws, while the Mountaineers (13-5, 2-4) continued their trend of improved free-throw shooting over the last month and made 18-of-22 attempts.

“We just have to play through it. We’re at the Power 5 Divison I level, so we have to play through the touchy fouls and calls, and all that,” said WVU guard Taz Sherman, who scored a team-high 21 points. “Have to control what you can control and play through it. It’s a contact game and fully physical, especially in a conference game like this with two teams that have the stigma that we do as defensive teams.”

Sherman’s 3-pointer with 6:21 to play put WVU in front for the first time in the second half, 54-53.

Terrence Shannon Jr. answered with a conventional three-point play, and Bryce Williams cashed in on a wide open triple to give the Red Raiders (15-4, 5-2) a five-point lead with 5:01 remaining.

For a good portion of the contest, the Mountaineers utilized a rarely seen before 1-2-2 zone in an effort to force the Red Raiders to make shots from the perimeter.

“We really hadn’t implemented in it in a game yet,” Sherman said. “We knew they were better drivers than shooters so we were trying something new. It worked to an extent, but second-chance points and not communicating always on switches hurt us in that zone.”

Still, the Mountaineers to were within a possession momentarily after Dimon Carrigan scored on a second-chance layup, but Shannon answered with two 3s on consecutive possessions to give his team a 65-56 advantage with 3:16 remaining and all but seal the verdict.

“This is not a very good perimeter shooting club, so as I watched their games, they score the ball in the paint,” Huggins said. “So I thought that if we played that 1-2-2 zone and kind of packed it and didn’t get it spread out too much that it would be good. It was good. I don’t know, how hard is it to bump? My guy, say he back cuts, I take him to the next guy and give it to him and say, ‘Take him,’ and pop back out and get a guy. We’ve done that before and I’ve never had guys think that was hard to do.”

WVU got as close as six with 1:45 left on a pair of Curry free throws, but Kevin McCullar’s foul shots and a Shannon dunk in transition wrapped up the Red Raiders’ win.

Tech used an early 11-2 surge to overcome a 7-3 deficit and lead by five on Shannon’s transition bucket. The Mountaineers offered a strong response and went on top 21-19 on Curry’s three-point play, but the Red Raiders answered with seven straight points to lead by five following Kevin Obanor’s layup.

Tech eventually led 33-25, before Sherman scored five straight points, and the Mountaineers settled for a 36-34 deficit at halftime.

WVU made only one field goal over nearly the first 6 minutes of the second half, but a 7-2 run in 1:14 featuring two Paulicap baskets and Bridges’ triple enabled the Mountaineers to trail 46-45 with 12:47 left.

Sherman made 8-of-15 shots and had five rebounds in his highest-scoring effort since a win over Kent State on December 12.

“I’m starting to get my wind back being in the gym and at practice,” Sherman said. “It was mainly just dealing with day to day injuries we all go through as athletes.”

The fifth-year guard did, however, have six turnovers.

“Their length and wingspan kind of bothered us a little bit, but I have to get stronger with the ball since I’m regaining strength back,” Sherman said.

Curry, with 11 points, was West Virginia’s only other double-figure scorer. Curry has made all 23 of his free-throw attempts over the last three games.

Sean McNeil was held to half of his season scoring average and finished with seven points on 2-of-7 shooting.

“We put not really a set, more a motion kind of thing where we get a lot of screening for [Sherman and McNeil],” Huggins said. “I take that back. We were supposed to have a lot of screening for those guys. It didn’t happen.”

Shannon led all players with 23 points. Obanor added 18 and Williams scored 13.

Six Red Raiders had at least four rebounds, with six apiece from Davion Warren and Adonis Arms tying Osabuohien for game-high honors.

The Mountaineers look to avoid a fourth straight setback at 8 p.m. Wednesday when they welcome Oklahoma.

“The message basically was you’re going to run what I tell you to run and what we practice, or you’re going to come sit on the bench and watch,” Huggins said. “What else is there?”

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