MORGANTOWN — With No. 15 Virginia in town, No. 18 West Virginia had plenty of motivation.
The Mountaineers had the motivation of a Big 12 team trying to beat an Atlantic Coast Conference team. They had that of proving which was the “Best Virginia.” They had that of padding their NCAA resume.
Then there was this:
“We read an article that said we play a cake schedule,” said WVU’s Bob Huggins. “We were going to be ready to play anyway, but I think that got us even more ready.”
And the icing on the cake Tuesday night was a defensive play by Daxter Miles. With the two teams tight, Miles, struggling offensively, carved out a turnover with a tipped pass to Jevon Carter, leading to a 68-61 win over the Cavaliers before 12,816 at the Coliseum.
It lifted the Mountaineers to 8-1 and handed Virginia its first loss of the season.
“It was big,” Miles said. “Virginia is a well-coached great team. We just came out victorious tonight.”
It certainly wasn’t easy for the Mountaineers. Early in the second half the hosts held leads of 37-30 and 39-32 but couldn’t extend the advantage. That’s when Kyle Guy, the Cavaliers’ leading scorer, decided to chime in.
Playing without a single point, he hit a 3-pointer at the 13:53 mark of the second half. And then another. And then another. And later three more. He finished with 18 second-half points.
West Virginia, however, had three aces left to play. First, sophomore Lamont West scored 12 second-half points and 22 overall.
“Coach Huggins ran a couple of good little actions to get some big shots, but [West] sees Virginia and lights up,” said Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett. “He’s one of those stretch fours that can hurt you.”
In last season’s WVU win over Virginia, West had eight points, hitting 2 of 3 treys, in nine minutes of action.
Second, after a slow start, Carter bounced back with a double-double, leading his team both in scoring with 23 points and rebounding with 10 boards.
And then there was that play of the game.
After West converted two free throws to make the score 63-59 with 1:11 to play, all in the Coliseum were looking for Guy to shoot yet again.
Including Miles. In the near corner, he tipped the ball back to Carter, who eventually went to the free-throw line with 43.2 seconds left. He converted to give the Mountaineers a two-possession lead and later extended that by sinking 1 of 2 with 26.3 ticks left.
Miles concluded the action with another steal, flipping the ball back and running up into the stands to celebrate.
“I just read the play,” Miles said of the tip. “I felt they were going to go to Guy. He had the hot hand in the second half. I just tried to read it.”
The guard said he didn’t know he was tipping it to Carter.
“I saw gray,” he said of the WVU uniforms of the night. “I didn’t know it was him.”
Miles was 4 of 13 shooting and finished with 12 points.
“You don’t always make shots but you can always make it up on the defensive end with pressure and effort,” he said.
“That’s what we do,” Carter said. “We know there are going to be rough nights. We can’t base our game on scoring. I feel we have the best backcourt in the nation. We can do everything. If scoring isn’t it, we have to find something else to do.”
“Dax made two huge plays,” Huggins said. “Huge plays. They scored on that elevator screen earlier. He did a great job getting around the screen, knocking the ball down and saving it. The other one he ran through. We do that every day. That wasn’t as big of a shock.”
The first half was tight throughout. Also, the officials called the game tightly on the home team. When the teams went to the locker room, West Virginia had been called for 12 personal fouls to Virginia’s six.
And while the Cavaliers couldn’t convert much from the field, hitting but 6 of 21 for 28.6 percent, they could from the free-throw line, dropping through 12 of 16. West Virginia was just 3 of 4.
The Mountaineers, however, did get off to a fast 7-0 start, largely on the shooting of West. Devon Hall, a 6-foot-5 Cavs guard, then began to make his presence felt. He hit a 3-pointer, went inside to score and collected a foul on Wes Harris. He later went hard to the rim over Miles to give the Cavaliers a 14-13 lead.
At the 8:00 timeout, WVU had hit but 5 of 14 field goals and Virginia 4 of 12. Carter had no points.
Finally, though, at 6:51, Carter hit a jumper and lifted the home fans off their seats with a follow after a Mountaineer steal. While the Cavs had no field goals in a 3:36 stretch, WVU built a 29-21 lead after a Harris follow before settling for a 29-26 halftime advantage. Virginia had seven turnovers in the half.
WVU will now visit 5-4 Pitt at 8 p.m. Saturday. The Panthers defeated Mount St. Mary’s 82-78 in overtime Tuesday.
“We want to go into Big 12 play 11-1,” West said. “That’s our goal.”