LUBBOCK, Texas — Well, for at least 24 hours West Virginia will stand alone atop the Big 12 standings.No, that's not an earth-shaking accomplishment just two games into an 18-game league season. But for a team that has never been so much as a single game over .500 in the league, it's something.The Mountaineers survived a wild overtime game with Texas Tech Monday night, losing an 11-point lead, rallying to send the game into overtime and then never trailing from there. They won 89-86 when Jaye Crockett missed a 3-point heave from the corner as time expired, with Terry Henderson in his face.It was the second time in as many games and the third in the last five that West Virginia toughened up and won a game they could have lost down the stretch. If nothing else, that's a huge sign of progress from a team that lost every close game it played for much of the first six weeks of the season.
"That's what we were looking for and one of the things we wanted to work on,'' said guard Terry Henderson' whose clutch 3-pointer toward the end of regulation sent the game into overtime. "Winning games down the stretch and winning close games is something we've worked on.''And after doing just that twice in three days, here's the reward: The Mountaineers moved to 10-5 overall and 2-0 in the Big 12 and alone in that top spot. Yes, Iowa State and Kansas State could match that 2-0 mark tonight and Oklahoma a day later, but at least for now West Virginia stands alone.The win also to a degree avenged the defeat that ended WVU's season last March. Texas Tech (8-7, 0-2) upset the Mountaineers in the play-in game at the Big 12 tournament after WVU had swept the two regular-season meetings.
Getting to 3-0 will be far more difficult, of course. West Virginia's next game is Saturday afternoon at home against preseason Big 12 co-favorite Oklahoma State and All-America Marcus Smart. That's followed by a Monday home game against Texas.But getting to 2-0 accomplished the singular goal the Mountaineers had when they embarked on their brief two-game Texas road trip. Along with Saturday's 74-69 win at Texas Christian, WVU avoided losing road games to the two teams picked at the bottom of the Big 12 preseason poll."It wouldn't have been good to have come away from here with a loss in either of these games,'' said Henderson, who had 16 points and made four of his six 3-point attempts.After losing an 11-point lead in regulation and then rallying from a three-point deficit just to get the game into overtime, West Virginia took the lead on a Devin Williams free throw and Nathan Adrian's steal and layup and never relinquished it. But it wasn't easy.
The testiest part came after Tech's Toddrick Gotcher drained a 3-pointer with 9.8 seconds to go and cut a five-point lead to 88-86. Then WVU couldn't inbound the ball until the third try, twice seeing it batted out of bounds but getting it back. The third time Gary Browne managed to get the inbounds pass and was fouled, making one of his two free throws for an 89-86 lead.That's when Tech inbounded the ball with 3.8 seconds left and it went the length of the floor before Williams was ruled to have touched it going out of bounds. That gave Tech another chance under its own basket with 3.4 seconds to play and Crockett missed the final shot and WVU could breathe a sigh of relief."It's always good to win by a big margin, but these are the games you live for,'' said point guard Juwan Staten, who had another huge game with 25 points and five assists, making 10 of his 12 shots. "You live for the close ones.''Well, this one was close for a lot of reasons, but one was Staten's mistake, or at least a perceived mistake. The Mountaineers had lost most of an 11-point lead and Tech was to within 66-64 when Staten drove to the basket and made a layup to make it a four-point margin.
But after the shot dropped through, a whistle blew and Staten was being charged with a technical, either for something he said or did after being banged around in the lane on the drive without a foul being called. Two free throws on the other end from that started a 7-0 Tech run and soon the Red Raiders had a 71-68 lead."I honestly didn't say anything,'' Staten said. "I just turned around and looked. Maybe that was it.''That could have been disastrous, but over the final three minutes the Mountaineers didn't lose their cool and rallied. They got all the way back when Henderson dropped in his tying shot with 16.8 seconds to go and Tech couldn't answer, sending the game into an overtime in which WVU never trailed.And to that 2-0 league mark and first place, for now."I think any coach in this conference would be excited to win two games on the road,'' Bob Huggins would say later. "This is a pretty hard league to win in. You've got to be excited to be 2-0 on the road.''In addition to Staten's 25 points and Henderson's 16, Eron Harris recovered from a three-point first half to score 18, Devin Williams had 12 points and seven rebounds and Brandon Watkins had five points and eight boards. West Virginia was outrebounded 35-26, but shot 55.7 percent for the game, including 63.3 percent (19 of 30) after halftime.
Tech got 18 points from Jordan Tolbert, 15 from Crockett and 17 from Gotcher, but a lot of the damage was done by reserve guard Dusty Hannahs, who had 14 and sparked Tech's comeback from that 11-point deficit in the second half.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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