AUSTIN, Texas — Their season fading and their big man still on the bench with a sprained toe, the Texas Longhorns were in desperate need of a big win to bolster their NCAA Tournament hopes.
They got it Saturday with an 87-79 overtime win over No. 20 West Virginia, spurred by guards Matt Coleman and Kerwin Roach II and a barrage of 3-pointers.
“We knew we were really going to have to fight,” Texas coach Shaka Smart said. “We also knew there was a ton on the line. We made that point … By the way, it’s not over.”
Roach and Coleman each scored 22 points and Jericho Sims added 17 points and eight rebounds for the Longhorns.
Texas (18-13, 8-10 Big 12) has struggled to gain traction or play with consistency in Smart’s third season. Missing the NCAA Tournament — Texas still isn’t guaranteed an at-large bid — would be a major blow to a program that finished last in the Big 12 last season.
“It would hurt a lot, especially after not making it last year. We have to play every game like it’s our last,” Roach said.
Texas has fought through its share of struggles. Shooting guard Andrew Jones has been out since early January after being diagnosed with leukemia. In just the last 10 days, freshman forward Mo Bamba, one of the top shot blockers in the country, injured his toe, and shooting guard Eric Davis Jr., has been held out for three games since his name surfaced in a report alleging he may have taken money from an agent representative.
Even with those players out, the worst offensive team in the Big 12 found an offensive symmetry Saturday it has lacked nearly all season. The Longhorns shot 57 percent and made 11-3 pointers, including two by Coleman and Jacob Young in the overtime.
“We can compete with anybody regardless of who we have on the team,” Roach said.
West Virginia led 48-42 early in the second half before Texas ripped off a 15-2 run keyed by a pair of 3-pointers from Dylan Osetkowski, who made five in the game. The Mountaineers forced overtime on Jevon Carter’s driving reverse layup with 1.6 seconds left in regulation.
Coleman put Texas up 76-74 with a 3-pointer from the right corner and made a short jumper before Young’s 3 pointer stretched the lead to seven and the Longhorns held on the rest of the way.
Lamont West scored 15 points for West Virginia (22-9, 11-7), which had five players score in double figures.
Texas hasn’t missed the NCAA Tournament in consecutive seasons since 1988, when the Longhorns were mired in a nine-year drought and Smart was 10 years old. Smart said he had to be careful about putting too much pressure on his players.
“You can’t build up this mindset in your head that if a certain game doesn’t go your way, you’re gonna jump off the top of a building,” Smart said.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers had already at least a tie for second place in the Big 12 and could have clinched the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament with a win. West Virginia’s press defense was effective in the first half, but did little to disrupt Texas in the second half and overtime. The Longhorns had five turnovers in the first five minutes, then just four the rest of the game. The Mountaineers’ inability to cover the 3-pointer kept Texas in the game early and proved especially costly in overtime.
“I have backed off of this team practicewise more than maybe any team I’ve ever coached. It’s probably a terrible mistake,” Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins said. “You hear so much about `They gotta have legs.’ We can’t shoot anyway when we do have legs. What difference does it make?”
Texas: The Longhorns are seeing a late-season emergence from Sims with Bamba out. Sims was 6 of 7, showing some power on dunks and rebounds and a deft touch with a soft sky hook. Sims’ first basket was a strong move around WVU forward Sagaba Konate for a two-handed flush in the opening minutes.
“I was trying to get revenge from the last time we played them,” Sims said. “With Mo being out, I’m trying to be more aggressive.”
Smart said Bamba, who is projected among this summer’s top picks in the NBA draft, wants to return but couldn’t say if that would be in the Big 12 tournament or the NCAA tournament if the Longhorns make it.
“We’re undermanned,” Smart said. “We’re really optimistic he’s going to play … hopefully in Kansas City,” at the Big 12 tournament, Smart said.
As impressive as Texas was shooting, the Longhorns muscled up against one of the toughest-rebounding teams in the Big 12 and won the boards 37-32. The Mountaineers dominated the Longhorns under the basket when these teams met back in January, a 35-point WVU victory
“West Virginia is a team that if you don’t stay connected, they can take your will from you,” Smart said. “We had that happen to us a month ago.”
West Virginia will play in the Big 12 Tournament
Texas will play in the Big 12 Tournament