MORGANTOWN — The West Virginia University men’s basketball team needed to get right coming off an embarrassing loss at Kansas State over the weekend.
The No. 14 Mountaineers ran visiting Texas off the floor in the first half and did not let up during the final 20 minutes, as West Virginia beat the Longhorns 97-59 on Monday at the WVU Coliseum. The 38-point loss was the worst ever, in terms of margin of defeat, for the Longhorns in a Big 12 conference game.
West Virginia (15-3, 4-2 Big 12) has been a slow-starting team for most of this season, but that was not the case Monday. Veteran WVU coach Bob Huggins said the Mountaineers beat themselves mentally at K-State, and obviously that was not the case Monday at home against Texas.
“For a one-day prep, I thought we did a really good job,” Huggins said. “[Assistant coach] Ronnie [Everhart] did a good job with the scout. [The players] pretty much, for the most part, did what we asked them to do. We didn’t let [Texas] play out in the middle of the floor, we kept them on the side. We, defensively, did what we needed to do and then we were able to get some easy baskets. We rebounded it much better than what we rebounded.
“It’s so mental,” he continued. “It’s so mental. If you come in and you’re excited, you know you’re prepared and you know what you have to do, you’re so much more likely to have success. We didn’t get beat to loose balls, we got beat to every loose ball the other day. It’s not physical, obviously.”
WVU starters Jermaine Haley, Emmitt Matthews and Jordan McCabe had all been slumping in recent weeks for the Mountaineers, but the trio of second-year Mountaineers woke up Monday with the Longhorns in town. Haley and Matthews were both active early, getting baskets and playing good defense as the Mountaineers built an early lead in the game’s first few minutes.
“Jermaine and Emmitt, particularly, were a lot more aggressive,” Huggins said. “We ran some things early for Jermaine to try to get him going. Emmitt got some things in transition that kind of got him going a little bit. When you see the ball go through the basket, it helps. Both of them saw the ball go through the basket early.”
Texas (12-6, 2-4 Big 12) battled with West Virginia early in the first half, at one point connecting on 3-pointers on three consecutive trips down the floor. The last of those by UT’s Jase Febres, cut WVU’s lead to 15-13 with a little more than 12 minutes to play in the first half. It went downhill fast from there for the Longhorns.
West Virginia went on a 28-2 run over the next 11 minutes of game time, and took a 45-20 lead into the locker room at halftime.
“A key to any game against West Virginia, and this has been the case since I began coaching against them, is aggressiveness,” Texas coach Shaka Smart said. “You have to find a way to stand up to their aggressiveness, and we obviously did not do that. Once we got in foul trouble, that probably made it tougher on our guys, but you can’t use that as an excuse. They were just flat-out the more aggressive team.”
The foul trouble for Texas was significant. Four Longhorns — including starters Jericho Sims, Kamaka Hepa and Matt Coleman — each had three fouls by halftime. Sims would foul out of the game with more than 14 minutes to play as the Mountaineers continued to pour it on Texas in the second half.
WVU led by as many as 43 points Monday and battered UT on the inside, outscoring the Longhorns 52-18 in the paint.
As a team, West Virginia outrebounded the Longhorns 53 to 25, including a 23 to 7 edge on the offensive glass. WVU also made 36-of-70 shot attempts, including a 6-of-14 mark from 3-point range.
“Offensive rebounding was huge for them,” Smart said. “We had some turnover in that stretch [in the first half] that they were able to turn into points. They went inside, and we had some guys with fouls.
“Our aggressiveness wasn’t good enough to start, but then, when they got us in foul trouble, that probably hurt even more. They deserve a lot of credit. Theyw ere aggressive, they made a lot of plays and they were all over the glass.”
West Virginia freshman Oscar Tshiebwe bounced back from a sub-par showing at Kansas State with 13 points and a team-high 11 rebounds Monday. Sophomore forward Derek Culver also scored 13 while grabbing eight rebounds. Haley hit double-digit scoring with 12 points while McCabe joined him at 10 points. Junior forward Gabe Osabuohien continued to show off his improvement on the offensive end of the floor with nine points Monday. Freshman guard Miles McBride also chipped in with nine points.
For Texas, Febres was the leading scorer with 18 points to go with 15 points by Coleman. Much of that output, however, came in the second half once the result was no longer in doubt for West Virginia.
“We have to do what we’re good at doing,” Huggins said. “We can’t get into trying to be something that we’re not. When we don’t try to be what we’re not, we’re pretty good. We’re pretty good at what we do, but we have to do it all the time.”
West Virginia returns to action Saturday when the Mountaineers host Missouri as part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge. The Mountaineers and Tigers are scheduled to tip at noon in the Coliseum with the game slated for broadcast on ESPN.