No. 24 Texas handles press, earns season sweep of No. 10 West Virginia

(AP Photo/Michael Thomas)
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Texas was able to withstand West Virginia’s full-court press as the No. 24 Longhorns raced to a 85-78 home win over the No. 10 Mountaineers in Big 12 play on Tuesday night. Ending the first half on a 37-20 run, Texas jumped out to a 45-36 halftime lead and never looked back, as they were able to withstand a late surge from West Virginia.

Coming off of back-to-back losses against Oklahoma and Iowa State on the road, this was a solid performance for Texas, who picks up the crucial season sweep of West Virginia. I had a theory on the CBT podcast earlier this season after the Longhorns won in Morgantown that Texas was a tough matchup for West Virginia because they’re used to facing a full-court press thanks to Shaka Smart’s “Havoc” system. That proved to be the case on Tuesday as the West Virginia defense only forced seven Texas turnovers when they’ve been forcing 19 turnovers per game this season.

The two-guard lineup of Isaiah Taylor (23 points, seven assists) and Javan Felix (11 points) did a great job on press break for the Longhorns as they were able to quickly get up the floor and give Texas shooters open looks. It helped that the Longhorns shot well from the perimeter, shooting 10-for-22 (45 percent) from 3-point range, as they had plenty of open looks once they broke the West Virginia press. Freshman Eric Davis also continued his strong play against top-25 teams this season by going for 15 points and making four 3-pointers in the first half.

The loss for West Virginia (20-6, 9-4) pushes them a game behind Kansas in the Big 12 regular season standings and they were playing without sophomore Daxter Miles Jr., who stayed behind with a hamstring injury. Jaysean Paige also injured his right ankle during the Texas game and his mobility was limited enough to reduce his minutes. Paige, West Virginia’s leading scorer, was held scoreless in the loss.

With those two key players being less than 100 percent (or not playing), this loss isn’t especially concerning for the Mountaineers. West Virginia isn’t going to face many teams that are as well-prepared as Texas to face its daunting press. Tarik Phillip paced West Virginia with 19 points while Devin Williams had a double-double of 18 points and 12 rebounds.

West Virginia’s biggest concern is getting healthy quickly and trying to stay in the Big 12 regular season race as they get home games against Oklahoma and Iowa State for their next two contests.

This was the start of an important stretch for Texas (17-9, 8-5) in which they get a lot of home games against the Big 12’s top teams. The Longhorns appear to be comfortably in the NCAA tournament picture at this point and they still have home games against Baylor, Oklahoma and Kansas. With three prime home games against strong competition and two winnable road games against Kansas State and Oklahoma State, Texas could be in good position for a strong finish — and more importantly, a better tournament seed — if they are able to take two of those three home games.

Texas has now knocked off two top-10 teams at home this season — the other being North Carolina — and another win against Oklahoma or Kansas would give them a strong NCAA tournament profile.