Mountaineer great Jevon Carter summed the feeling up best on Twitter during West Virginia’s quarterfinal tilt with two-seed Texas Tech.
“This is West Virginia basketball,” Carter tweeted.
Bob Huggins’ young team played inspired basketball, displaying the same hustle and grit of previous Mountaineer teams that had succeeded at the Big 12 tournament, as 10-seed WVU knocked off the regular season co-champions, 79-74.
The coach of the Mountaineers and his players think West Virginia is turning a corner.
“Huggs even said something like that today,” said junior Chase Harler. “I just think over the past seven or eight games, even though we didn’t win every game, I feel like we’re just playing better, taking things away on defense and moving the ball on offense. This is my third year here, and my first two years, that was what was expected and what I was used to seeing. It’s nice to finally get back to that.”
Huggins has said that each night, it seems a different player steps up. On this night, it was freshman Emmitt Matthews Jr., who set a new career-high in scoring by a mile with 28 points on 10-14 shooting.
Matthews was the game’s leading scorer, topping Jarrett Culver’s 26 points for Texas Tech. At times, Matthews was the player who defended the league’s player of the year.
“I think my teammates do a really good job of getting me open,” said Matthews. “Without them, I would be nothing. Coach Huggins does a really good job of getting me in the good spots to get the right shots off, and when I’m open, I just shoot it.”
The Mountaineers used a fast start to take a 17-point lead over TTU, but the Red Raiders chipped away at that lead until the final moments of the contest. With 2:03 left, a Culver layup gave Texas Tech 69-68 lead.
But West Virginia pulled right back in front and made five critical free throws in the final two minutes to earn a five-point win.
Freshman Jordan McCabe said the Mountaineers really upped their defensive intensity in those closing stages.
“We wanted it more than they did,” said McCabe. “They obviously wanted it more in Lubbock and they wanted it more at our place. That’s the difference, I think, with this team. We have a lot of guys right now who are feeling urgency now.”
McCabe scored 13 points for WVU and added eight assists. Junior Jermaine Haley chipped in 11 points and Lamont West added 10.
Before the quarterfinal round, West said that WVU “owed” Texas Tech after being swept by the Raiders in the regular season. No matter which team the Mountaineers face in the semifinal round nightcap, he said “payback” will be on his mind again.
“We lost to every team in the Big 12,” said West, “so everybody we play, it’s gonna be payback.”
WVU will play either Texas or Kansas in the semis.