MORGANTOWN – When a tightly contested basketball game is decided in the final couple of possessions, there are always plenty of what ifs and second guesses to be had. No. 14 WVU’s 72-70 heartbreaking loss to No. 4 Texas Saturday in Morgantown is no different.
The Mountaineers (9-4 overall, 2-3 Big 12 Conference) had their chances late, led for over 33 of the 40 total minutes and were ahead by as many as nine points in the second half. Yet a closing 7-0 run by Texas was enough to push the Longhorns through.
And leave West Virginia wondering what went wrong.
In particular, two of the last three sequences came into question in postgame press conferences.
One included two offensive rebounds and two missed free throws by WVU junior forward Emmitt Matthews with 10.8 seconds left that led to Texas guard Courtney Ramey sprinting the floor on his dribble, driving the lane and kicking out to a wide-open Andrew Jones, who buried the game-winning 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds to go.
WVU had a final possession, but Miles “Deuce” McBride’s full-court inbounds pass to Derek Culver was stolen and, realistically, with just over a tick left on the clock, never had much chance of success.
Going back, Ramey hit a jump shot with 55 seconds left to trim WVU’s lead to one point at 70-69. That led to an important Mountaineer possession with the chance to run clock. Matthews missed a jumper but gathered his own rebound to keep the possession alive.
Then McBride missed a jumper, with Matthews pulling down the rebound on the block. But instead of kicking out to a guard or dribbling out in an effort to keep the clock winding, Matthews went back up with a shot and was fouled with 10.8 seconds left.
Though coach Bob Huggins and Mountaineer fans likely wish his decision had been different, Huggins said in the long run it may not have mattered all that much.
“We all would’ve,” Huggins said when asked if he wished Matthews had chosen to bring the ball back out. “But the reality is he’s going to dribble it out there and they’ll foul him out there. It’s just going to run just a few more seconds off the clock. That’s not going to end the game.”
Matthews stepped to the free-throw line with a chance to put WVU back up three but was off on both attempts, giving Texas a chance to steal a game in which it didn’t lead otherwise in the second half. And that’s exactly what the Longhorns (10-1, 4-0) did.
It was a tough ending for Matthews, who contributed nine points and eight rebounds, and one that left him visibly dejected after the game.
“We can say, ‘Yeah, he missed two free throws,’ whatever,” WVU guard Taz Sherman said. “Yet you’ve got to talk about him getting the offensive rebound. You’ve got to talk about me not getting a stop the play before that. There’s a lot of plays that lead up to the end of the game being a close game.
“For all the people that want to say it’s on one play, that’s just not the case.”
Even with the missed foul shots, WVU still had a one-point lead as Texas gathered the rebound with the clock rolling under 10 seconds to go. The Longhorns could have chosen to take a timeout and set up a play, but coach Shaka Smart didn’t, instead letting his experienced guards attack an unset WVU defense, a decision that ultimately paid off.
“There was enough time on the clock where we felt like our guards could make a good play when the free throw was missed,” Smart said. “I think any time, in that situation, where you have enough time to go make a good play, you want to let your players go do that without the defense necessarily being set or having the advantage of determining exactly where they want to go by calling a timeout.”
Huggins said the final play was a microcosm of the guard penetration and passing that hurt the Mountaineers all game.
“Well, we weren’t making rotations,” Huggins said. “We didn’t make good rotations, and then we got it fixed to where we were making pretty good rotations. Again, they are experienced. They look. As they are driving the ball, they are looking at if the guy in the corner is open.
“They [threw it diagonally] to the wing in the first half, and that hurt us. Then, they actually threw some to the top, which hurt us. Should there have been a rotation there? Yes. I’d have to look at the film, though, like everybody else, and watch the ball to see if he scores.”