Texas Tech’s Dejan Kravic tipped in a missed shot with 0.4 seconds remaining, and the Red Raiders stunned WVU 71-69 in the first round of the Big 12 Championship on Wednesday at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.
Kravic’s game-winner was essentially uncontested, as three Mountaineers could be seen standing still in the paint as time ticked down, none of them blocking out a single opponent. Kravic thus easily got to the ball and scored after teammate Jamal Williams had missed a 3-pointer from the corner.
“Our credo for as long as I've coached has always been ‘Get to the ball,’” WVU coach Bob Huggins said. “It's hard to win when you don't get to the ball. I think that's any sport. That's just not basketball, that's any sport. And this group, for whatever reason, is the worst that we've ever had at getting to the ball.”
Barring an unlikely trip to a minor postseason tournament -- the CBI or the CIT -- West Virginia’s season came to an end with that play. The loss dropped the Mountaineers to 13-19 overall. They dropped their final seven games of the year, the program’s longest streak of futility since a disastrous 8-20 campaign in 2001-02 that saw coach Gale Catlett retire midseason.
Adding insult to injury, the Red Raiders’ win was only their second since Jan. 23. The other victory came against lowly TCU.
As a reward of sorts, Texas Tech (11-19) gets to face the top seed in the tournament, Kansas, on Thursday afternoon.
Player of the Game
It didn’t look like it would even be close in the early stages, as the Red Raiders jumped out to a 16-4 lead on a trio of 3-pointers from guard Ty Nurse. Nurse came into the game with only 13 made trifectas all season long, but took advantage of poor defense to torch WVU early.
The Texas Tech lead grew to as many as 14 points on a layup by Toddrick Gotcher, which made it 30-16. But as has been a theme late in the season, West Virginia put together a rally, going on an 8-0 run late in the period to get back within 37-32 by halftime.
“I don't think we were supposed to be down that much in the first place, but we fought back,” WVU guard Eron Harris said. “So it might have took a little bit of energy out of us, but that shouldn't matter. We've got to play 40 minutes regardless.”
The momentum carried over for the Mountaineers into the second half. A Matt Humphrey 3-pointer dropped the deficit down to one point at 42-41, but Humphrey was called for a technical foul on his way back down the court.
“I guess there was some talking going on,” Huggins said of the technical -- and one in the first half on Aaric Murray. “They told them to shut up, and our guys, I think, said something after they were told to be quiet. The truth of the matter is it should never happen. You can go back and look, my guys don't do that. They have never done that. It's inexcusable.”
That briefly seemed to stymie the WVU rally, as Tech pushed its lead out to seven points. But seven unanswered from West Virginia -- five of which came from freshman Terry Henderson -- made it a 50-50 game.
The contest remained close for its duration. The biggest lead either team held in the final 11:00 was a mere four points. The Mountaineers took their first lead of the contest at 54-52 on an Murray basket.
West Virginia seemed to catch a break when one of TTU’s best players, Jordan Tolbert, fouled out with 2:26 remaining. But the team didn’t take full advantage, with both Deniz Kilicli and Keaton Miles going 1-for-2 on trips to the foul line.
Kilicli did so twice in the final minutes, the second time coming with 20.1 seconds left in a 1-and-1 situation. The senior from Turkey canned the first foul shot to tie the game, but missed the second. Texas Tech called timeout with 13.0 seconds remaining and set up what ultimately was the decisive sequence.
“As much time as we spend on rebounding the basketball and blocking out, you would think that at a time like that, maybe you try to get the ball,” Huggins said. “They got a very fortunate bounce. It bounced right back to where they were.”
For Texas Tech, Jaye Crockett led the way with 18 points. He was a perfect 3-of-3 from 3-point range, helping the Red Raiders to an 8-of-12 mark from beyond the arc overall.
Four other Red Raiders finished in double figures: Nurse had 12 points, Tolbert scored 11 before fouling out, Kravic tallied 10 and guard Josh Gray finished with 10 points, seven rebounds and six assists.
Henderson came off the bench to lead WVU with 12 points. Murray, another bench player, finished with 11. Kilicli, in likely his final game as a Mountaineer, scored 10 points. For once, shooting wasn’t a culprit in a loss for this team, as West Virginia finished 51 percent from the field.