MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) – With the emergence of freshman Eron Harris and the grit of Deniz Kilicli, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins refuses to believe the Mountaineers have run out of time to make the NCAA tournament.
West Virginia squandered an 11-point lead, only to clamp down on Texas down the stretch and beat the Longhorns 60-58 Monday night.
West Virginia (11-11, 4-5 Big 12) swept the season series from Texas and has won two straight for the first time since late December.
Still, it will take a sizzling finish for the Mountaineers to continue their streak of going to the NCAA tournament in every season under their sixth-year coach. Five of West Virginia’s nine remaining regular-season games are on the road.
“You just have to win games,” Huggins said. “The formula is pretty simple.”
Behind a starting lineup of three freshmen and two sophomores, Texas might see its streak of 14 straight NCAA appearances end under coach Rick Barnes unless things turn around quickly. The Longhorns (10-12, 2-7) have now lost seven times in nine games.
“I know that they’re a young group of guys, but tonight I thought it was the first time, from an internal mindset, that they were a team,” Barnes said. “And I’m really proud of the way our guys stayed together.”
Kilicli and Jabarie Hinds scored 14 points apiece for the Mountaineers.
It marked only the second time this season that the 6-foot-9 Kilicli had team scoring honors.
“I think he was terrific and so much more active,” Huggins said. “He does a great job of sealing people and we don’t do a great job of getting him the ball. I think the last two games were the best two all-around games that Deniz has played. He has had a lot of energy.”
Harris finished with 13 points for West Virginia. He has been a pleasant surprise for the Mountaineers, scoring in double figures in six of seven games since entering the starting lineup.
Huggins said Harris has “made a lot of progress.” And Harris said the message from Huggins has been positive despite a season of many disappointments and close losses in league play.
“He’s just saying, `Let’s string together a line of games,”‘ Harris said. “And if we can get two or three more wins we’ll be up there, third or second in the league. And that’s where we want to get so we can get in the (NCAA) tournament.”
Texas trailed by as many as 11 early in the second half but went ahead 49-47 on two free throws by Javan Felix with 8:21 left.
But the Longhorns were held to nine points — and two field goals — the rest of the game.
West Virginia scored five straight points, including Harris’ free throw that put the Mountaineers ahead 59-54 with 25 seconds left.
West Virginia had three turnovers in the final 2 minutes, only to see the Longhorns give the ball right back with turnovers, missed shots and fouls.
Still, Sheldon McClellan gave Texas some chances at the very end. He made two free throws after being fouled by Kilicli on a 3-point try with 11 seconds left to draw Texas within 59-56.
After Aaric Murray made a free throw for West Virginia with 9 seconds to go, McClellan was fouled on another 3-point attempt, this time by Murray with under a second remaining. McClellan made the first two free throws and Texas called timeout. McClellan missed the final one on purpose and Murray got the rebound as time expired.
Texas held a 36-29 rebounding advantage but was held to 35 percent shooting (21 of 60) and was outscored 20-11 from the free-throw line.
McClellan had 14 points and Felix 12 for Texas. Ioannis Papapetrou and Julien Lewis added 10 each. It marked the first time in seven games that Felix scored in double figures.
West Virginia’s arena was more than half empty, thanks to a snowstorm and the game’s late start. The crowd of 4,966 was the Mountaineers’ smallest of the season.
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