West Virginia edge Texas 84-82

And we thought West Virginia’s 19-point comeback victory at Oklahoma State last month was epic!

Today at Texas, the 13th-ranked Mountaineers matched it by outscoring the Longhorns 41-20 over the remaining 18:18 to pull off a stunning 84-82 victory over the 12th-ranked Longhorns.

Where to start with this one?

We’ll start with guard Sean McNeil, who  scored all 16 of his team-high points in the second half after spending nearly the entire first half on the bench with two quick fouls. He keyed the comeback by scoring 13 points over an eight-minute stretch in the second half to pull the Mountaineers to within three, 74-71.

Deuce McBride’s 3 with 6:29 left tied the game at 76, and a pair of Taz Sherman free throws with 4:35 remaining gave West Virginia its first lead of the game. All eight of the Mountaineers’ points over the remaining 6:28 came from the free throw line.

Fortunately Texas, which couldn’t miss in the first half, couldn’t connect at the end when it counted most. The Longhorns went scoreless over the remaining 2:55, going 0 for 4 from the floor and missing eight of their final 10 field goal attempts.

Both makes were 3s by Courtney Ramey, who poured in a game-high 28 points, but Ramey’s afternoon ended with 2:55 to go when he picked up his fifth foul trying to stop a Sherman drive to the basket.

“It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t pretty, but we’ll take it,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, now four wins shy of 900 for his career, said afterward. “I don’t think we ought to play the halftime speech to anybody anytime soon.”

Huggins said some defensive adjustments in the second half eventually paid off. 

“We went point-drop and got them standing around a little bit and did a really good job of switching and matching up out of it,” he explained. “That really alleviated a lot of the problems we had with ball screens.”

A big factor in WVU’s comeback was Ramey picking up his fourth foul with 9:38 left and Texas leading by seven. When he finally returned to the floor five minutes later, the Mountaineers were leading 77-76.

“Ramey just made hard shots,” Huggins said. “The second 3 was from really, really deep.”

For the first 22 minutes of today’s game, it looked like Texas was going to name its score. The Longhorns shot an unconscious 70% from the floor in the first half, mostly near the basket where they got 34 points on a variety of dunks and layups.

Texas (13-6, 7-5) scored the first nine points of the second half to lead b 19 before Derek Culver ended West Virginia’s drought with a dunk.

Culver, with 14 points, was one of five West Virginia players to reach double figures. McBride scored a team-best 17 points, while Sherman and forward Emmitt Matthews Jr. chipped in with 14 points each.

“We had a lot of energy, but we just tried to stay calm because obviously our run could have stopped whenever. We’re happy it didn’t and once we got the lead we kind of just kept going from there to keep the momentum going as much as we could,” Matthews Jr. explained.

“We just gutted it out,” McBride added.

McNeil, Matthews and freshman Jalen Bridges were a combined 11-of-17 from the floor, while the rest of the team made 13-of-37 for just 35.1%.

Matt Coleman III was Texas’ other big point producer with 20 points on eight-of-nine shooting. Texas finished the game connecting on 32 of 59 for 54.2%, including 14-of-26 from 3-point distance.

West Virginia (15-6, 8-4) made up for it by scoring the Longhorns 26 to four at the free throw line. WVU made 26-of-37, including eight-of-nine over the final 4:35.

McNeil’s three free throws with 3:52 left gave West Virginia its biggest lead of the game at five, 81-76, before Ramey quickly erased it.

Texas outscored West Virginia 34-14 in the paint, but the Longhorns gave up 25 points on their 16 turnovers.

The Horns held a slight 34-31 edge on the glass.

“If I’m not mistaken, they had 41 points in the paint in the first half,’ Huggins said. “We just did a better job in the second half of keeping them out of the paint.”

Today’s victory was only West Virginia’s third ever at the Frank Erwin Center, and its first since a 74-72 win in 2017.

It also avenges a last-second 72-70 Longhorn victory in Morgantown when Andrew Jones made the game-winning shot with 1.8 seconds left.

The two 19-point, second-half comeback road wins are likely the only two instances that’s ever happened in school history. WVU once overcame an 18-point second half deficit in the 1959 NCAA Tournament against St. Joseph’s to win 95-92 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

WVU also erased a 19-point deficit to upset top-ranked Duke at the Charleston Civic Center in 1966, but that margin was in the first half. There was also a 21-point comeback win at Syracuse in 1975 when Huggins was a Mountaineer player, but, again, the deficit occurred in the first half.

The win puts West Virginia in a temporary tie with Oklahoma in third place in the Big 12 standings at 8-4, but the Sooners take on last-place Iowa State later today. Kansas defeated Texas Tech earlier this afternoon to improve to 11-5.

The Jayhawks are likely to complete their 18-game Big 12 schedule with three games remaining, while the Sooners, Mountaineers and Longhorns likely won’t. Conference leader Baylor has not played since Feb. 2 and is scheduled to come off its COVID-19 pause next Tuesday against the Cyclones.

West Virginia’s win today was the first of a grueling three-game tour of the Longhorn State that continues Tuesday night in Fort Worth when the Mountaineers meet TCU at 7 p.m. The trip concludes two days later at No. 2 Baylor on Thursday night.