AUSTIN, Texas — Just like the late-arriving home crowd, No. 24 Texas (17-9) shook off a slow start in the first half to erase an eight-point deficit and head into halftime up by nine. The Longhorns never looked back, defeating the 10th-ranked Mountaineers, 85-78.
Unlike their first matchup in January, Tuesday night’s game didn’t turn into a free-throw shooting contest. Instead it was more of a free-flowing, fast-paced game where both teams’ offenses thrived. West Virginia (21-5) shot 62.5 percent in the first half while Texas almost matched them by shooting 61.5 percent. With both teams shooting so efficiently, the score at the end of the first half was 45-36. This was in stark contrast of their first matchup where the final score was 56-49.
West Virginia’s aggressive defense gave Texas fits at the start of the game, using traps to force the Longhorns into five first-half turnovers. Yet the Horns remained undaunted, found their stroke from long range (thanks in large part to Eric Davis Jr.) and picked up their defensive effort to force West Virginia into nine first-half turnovers.
The Longhorns’ defense and hot shooting carried over to the second half as they quickly extended their lead to double digits. West Virginia’s hot shooting didn’t carry over to the second half and they turned the ball over five times.
An alley-oop slam by Texas center Prince Ibeh from Isaiah Taylor with eight minutes left provided an early exclamation mark for the Longhorns as the dunk grew Texas’ lead to 15 and seemed to sap any energy West Virginia had left, although the Mountaineers made a valiant effort at the end to trim the lead to single digits when the game was basically out of hand.
“It’s hard to score on West Virginia and taking care of the ball is always an adventure,” Longhorns head coach Shaka Smart said. “I thought our guys, after the first three or four minutes, settled in and did a great job attacking their pressure. We came out lacking some aggressiveness, but our guys did a great job flipping their mindset. I thought this was one of the best games I have seen Isaiah (Taylor) play. He steadied us quite a bit, as did Javan (Felix). They were really big against West Virginia’s pressure.”
Isaiah Taylor led Texas with 23 points, seven assists and four rebounds, and Davis Jr. scored 15. Javan Felix chipped in 11 points.
The Mountaineers were led by Tarik Phillip (19 points, four assists) and Devin Williams, who recorded a double-double of 18 points and 12 rebounds.
The win was Texas’ fifth over a higher ranked team this season.
1. Eric Davis Jr. and the Longhorns let it fly. The freshman guard’s 3-point shooting in the first half was instrumental in Texas not only coming back but also taking a nine-point lead into halftime. Davis Jr. (15 points, two rebounds) was a perfect 4 for 4 from 3 in the first half, even drilling back-to-back 3s at one point. His third trey was a heat check of sorts as he shot it from a few feet above the arc.
“It was huge,” Longhorns coach Shaka Smart said about Davis’ three-point barrage. ” It won us the game. There are other factors. Obviously, Isaiah was terrific. I thought that there were a lot of guys that gave us a lift, but that was probably the most important stretch of the game, because they were up as much as eight points early. The way that he spear-headed that run along with the other guys out on the floor, I think that when we see the tape, we will say that was the most critical stretch right there.”
The Longhorns continued to bomb away from long range in the second half. Most notable were two early 3s from senior forward Connor Lammert (nine points, six rebounds) that helped Texas stretch its lead into double figures. Texas finished the game shooting 10 for 22 from 3-point range.
2. Ankle woes slow Jaysean Paige. Paige came off the bench and played just three minutes before turning his ankle in the first half. The senior West Virginia guard was listed as questionable to return in the second half with an ankle sprain, but he re-entered with slightly less than 16 minutes to play. Paige was a non-factor in the first half and was even more so in the second half because of his ankle.
“He tried but he couldn’t move,” West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said about Paige’s injury after the game. Huggins also called the injury to Paige deflating and a major factor to their loss.
The senior guard averages 14.0 points for the Mountaineers, and his lack of offensive production proved to be a significant disadvantage.
3. Hack-A-Prince. Wanting to take advantage of Prince Ibeh’s poor free-throw shooting and in effort to try slow down the game, the Mountaineers intentionally fouled the Texas center with 4:22 to play. Although the Hack-A-Player tactic is popular in the NBA, it is illegal in college basketball, so West Virginia was whistled for a flagrant foul. To Bob Huggins’ credit, the ploy did initially work as Ibeh missed both free-throws. However since the Longhorns got the ball right back, Javan Felix nailed a jumper.