West Virginia’s veterans have provided the team with better production and leadership late in the season.
That continued Wednesday in the Mountaineers’ 78-62 victory over Texas Tech during an opening-round affair in the Phillips 66 Big 12 Conference Championship at T-Mobile Center in Kansas City.
Seniors Erik Stevenson, Tre Mitchell, Emmitt Matthews Jr., and Kedrian Johnson combined for 68 points during the victory, which sends West Virginia (19-13) to a quarterfinal against top seed Kansas at 3 p.m. Thursday.
Johnson led all scorers with 20 points, his sixth 20-plus point performance this season. Stevenson added 18 points, including 13 in the first half. Mitchell posted 17 points and a team-high nine rebounds. Matthews tallied 13 points for his fourth consecutive double-figure game.
“Our turnovers are down, and we are rebounding the ball better,” West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said. “We know each other better. We are making plays now because we thought they would zig, and they zagged.”
The Mountaineers’ defense stepped up in holding the Red Raiders (16-16) to their lowest point total since February 4 against Baylor.
While WVU and TTU split two regular season meetings with each team winning on the other’s home floor, one of the more glaring differences in the matchups was rebounding, which the Red Raiders controlled for a 39-28 advantage in Morgantown.
However, the Mountaineers flipped the script by winning the board battle, 39-35.
“We knew it was a key piece to the game,” Mitchell noted. “When we played them at Tech, we killed them on the glass and won. They beat us on the glass when we played in West Virginia and won. That was a point of emphasis for us. We knew as long as we controlled that area, then we would be fine.”
West Virginia’s defense also stepped up in the second half by holding Texas Tech to 23 percent (7 for 30) from the field.
“Making rotations and having ball pressure at all times,” said Johnson on the key to slowing the Red Raiders in the second half. “We will always end up scoring the ball, but it will come down to the defensive end for us.”
Texas Tech scored the first six points and led 9-2 following a three-pointer by Pop Isaacs with 16:36 remaining. He led TTU with 15 points.
The Mountaineers struggled early and missed their first six field goals until Mitchell cashed in one of his three triples to cut the Red Raiders’ lead to four nearly 4 minutes into the matchup..
Stevenson’s first basket came on a three at the 11:44 mark to bring WVU to within a point at 15-14. He cashed in another three 29 seconds later to tie the game at 17.
The tide started shifted for the Mountaineers late in the first half as WVU scored eight unanswered points, including seven from Stevenson, for a 31-24 lead.
“It is always good for our team to see myself, Tre, Keddy, and Emmitt make shots early,” Stevenson said. “It was not as early as I would have liked. I did not take many shots in the first ten minutes. It was good to see those two go in. I sadly cooled off, which is frustrating. It is good to get a spark for the team.”
The Red Raiders went nearly 5:30 without a basket and were outscored, 15-3, during that stretch as the Mountaineers got baskets from Stevenson, Matthews, Johnson and Joe Toussaint. Texas Tech cut the WVU lead to eight following an Obanor triple with 2:45 remaining, which was the Red Raiders’ first basket in 5:22.
WVU built its lead to 43-30 before settling for an eight-point halftime advantage.
Texas Tech connected on one field goal over the first 7 minutes of the second half — a three from De’Vion Harmon, who scored 14 points. Meanwhile, Mitchell hit a trey for a 53-39 lead, then another at the 14:32 mark for a 58-43 advantage.
Obanor’s three allowed the Red Raiders to then trail by 12, before the Mountaineers scored nine unanswered points, holding a 67-46 advantage on Stevenson’s jumper with 6:49 remaining.
WVU forced 15 Texas Tech turnovers, scoring 12 points off those turnovers. The Mountaineers also assisted on 14 of 27 made baskets.
The Red Raiders played without now previous head coach Mark Adams, who was suspended for a racially insensitive comment to a player and resigned late Wednesday. Tech announced earlier this week it was investigating Adams and Corey Williams would serve as interim coach.
With Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim retiring earlier Saturday, Huggins became the active wins leader in college basketball with 934.
In the other Big 12 first-round matchup late Wednesday, Oklahoma State defeated Oklahoma, 57-49, to setup a quarterfinal matchup with No. 2 Texas.