Mountaineers: "We've Just Got to Win Out" - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

Mountaineers: "We've Just Got to Win Out"

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Tarik Phillip and Teyvon Myers celebrate a play in a win over Iowa State. (PHOTO: Geoff Coyle) Tarik Phillip and Teyvon Myers celebrate a play in a win over Iowa State. (PHOTO: Geoff Coyle)
MORGANTOWN -

We had seen the script before. West Virginia built up a double-digit lead only to see its opposition come climbing back in and ultimately tying the game or taking a lead.

It has resulted in losses to Oklahoma and Kansas State and just this past weekend, a similar scene played out as the Mountaineers had to hold on for a four-point win over Texas A&M.

So here we were watching it happen again. WVU pulled ahead by 12 points, 21-9, in the first half of Tuesday’s game at Iowa State. It took the Cyclones less than seven minutes to knot the game at 27 and give the 14,384 who filled Hilton Coliseum a reason to return to their typical boisterous selves.

“I’d say it’s one of the top three toughest places to play in the Big 12,” WVU senior forward Nathan Adrian said after the game. “Their fans come out and support them every night, so you’ve got to give it to them. They make it hard to come in here and get a win.”

Unlike the game against Kansas State, when the Wildcats battled back in the first half and ultimately led much of the second, West Virginia responded when the score read 27-27. The Mountaineers got back on track for the remainder of the half and took a four-point lead into the locker room.

They did so despite the fact that Iowa State had shot 55 percent from 3-point range in the first half, with Matt Thomas ultimately connecting on five over the course of 40 minutes.

What the Mountaineers never did was allow Monte Morris to get going. The senior guard leads the Cyclones in points, averaging 16.4 per game coming into Tuesday night, but scored just eight against West Virginia. Jevon Carter locked him down defensively and the Big 12’s leader in assist-to-turnover margin was just plus-1 on the day with two assists and one turnover.

What the Mountaineers never did themselves was fall apart. In losses, Bob Huggins has been able to point to free throws and giveaways as reasons why the opponent could overcome whatever WVU found success in defensively.

“We made free throws,” Huggins said. “If we would have went to the free throw line and missed free throws, it would have got close again. But we were fortunate enough to go to the free throw line – 17 for 20 is pretty good.”

That’s right – West Virginia missed only three times out of 20 tries at the charity stripe. There was a method to the madness behind their frequent trips to the line, too.

Tarik Phillip finished the game with 15 points, one of three players who scored in double figures for the Mountaineers, and he said that his mindset was to take advantage of his team’s depth compared to that of Iowa State.

The Cyclones, he said, were concerned that they may get in foul trouble, so their defenders may not have put themselves in position to stand between a WVU player and the basket.

The aggression paid off as the Mountaineers outscored the Cyclones 34 to 18 in the paint and had 14 second-chance points as they crashed the boards for 12 offensive rebounds.

“We stuck together,” WVU sophomore Esa Ahmad, who scored 14 points, said after the win. “That’s been a big part of our season – family – just sticking together, trusting in one another, and that’s what we did tonight.”

The game took place one day after West Virginia was again picked No. 7 in the AP Poll on Monday afternoon. The ranking marks the third time the Mountaineers have seen the number seven accompany their name on the ticker and so far this season, it had not been a lucky association.

WVU had lost the previous two games after being picked seventh in the nation, and as much as that is surely a random coincidence, it is also something that at least the players spoke about to one another prior to playing Iowa State.

“We talked about it,” Ahmad acknowledged. “We knew every time we got to seven, we always lost that next game and we made it a big point of emphasis not to lose this next game. To come out with a lot of effort, energy and we did that.”

Ahmad and his teammates are done with half of the conference schedule, bringing a 6-3 Big 12 mark into the final nine regular season games. Saturday begins the part of the season when teams begin to appear on the court for the second time, so a familiarity accompanies each match-up.

After dropping three games in which the Mountaineers believe they should have been the victors, they know the only way they can truly reenter the conversation for the regular season conference champion race is to keep a zero in the loss column from this point on.

“I feel like we’ve just got to win out,” Phillip said Tuesday night. “The games that we lost, we lost. It’s not like they won the game. I feel like we’ve just got to try to win out. Stay locked in every game, even if we get up or get down, just got to stay locked in and we can come out and win the game.”

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