AUSTIN, Texas- Marcus Carr spent the nonconference portion of his first season at Texas becoming comfortable in coach Chris Beard’s offense, trying to be a good teammate and working to create shots for others.
On Saturday, Carr was assertive looking for his own shots. Carr scored a season-best 20 points and No. 17 Texas defeated short-handed West Virginia 74-59 in the teams’ Big 12 opener, snapping the Mountaineers’ eight-game winning streak.
West Virginia (11-2) played without starting guard and leading scorer Taz Sherman (20.9 points per game) along with reserves Gabe Osabuohien and Kobe Johnson. All three are in COVID-19 protocols.
Carr averaged 16 shot attempts, seven free throws and more than 19 points as an all-Big Ten player at Minnesota last season. In his first 12 games at Texas, Carr averaged eight field goal attempts, 3.5 free throws and 8.6 points.
Against West Virginia, Carr converted 7 of 11 from the field and 4 of 5 free throws.
“Starting conference play, I wanted to start the right way,” Carr said.
Texas (11-2) led by 28 points with 13 minutes remaining, but West Virginia used improved shooting and dogged defense to make the game more competitive.
Courtney Ramey scored 15 points for Texas, and Andrew Jones added 14.
Jalen Bridges led West Virginia with 18 points, and Malik Curry scored 14. Sean McNeill, West Virginia’s No. 2 scorer this season, had 12 points, two fewer than his average. He hit 5 of 13 shots.
“We’re a much better team when we have Taz,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “Takes a lot of pressure off Sean.”
With Sherman out, McNeill played 40 minutes and Bridges 37, both on the floor more than usual.
“McNeill and Bridges were warriors today,” Beard said.
Texas finished the first half with a 25-6 push, including an 18-2 run, for a 39-20 lead. West Virginia scored 10 points in the final 15 minutes of the half.
Ramey scored 13 in the half, hitting three 3-pointers. The Longhorns converted 50% of their field-goal attempts, including 6 of 11 3-pointers, in the period.
Texas limited West Virginia to 32% accuracy in the half, forced 12 turnovers and held a 10-0 edge in points off turnovers. During the 18-2 run, Texas forced a 30-second shot clock violation and a 5-second violation on an inbounds pass.
One of the loudest crowd reactions during the game came after the 30-second clock expired.
“We do recognize what our identity is,” Carr said.
West Virginia improved in the second half, shooting 52% to finish the game at 42.3%. Texas shot 34.5% in the second half and 42.4% overall.
“We run around like we don’t know what’s going on,” Huggins said. “Hard to understand.”
West Virginia: The Mountaineers could not overcome the loss of Sherman, who ranks second in the Big 12 and 13th nationally in scoring. He had 23 points against Connecticut and 21 against Marquette. Coming in, West Virginia ranked sixth nationally in turnover margin – plus-6.7 – but ended the game with a 20-12 deficit. “We threw it to them,” Huggins said. “They didn’t take it from us much.”
Texas: This was the Longhorns’ best victory this season by far after losses at No. 4 Gonzaga and No. 15 Seton Hall. The Longhorns played the kind of defense, especially in the first half, that enables them to lead the nation in fewest points allowed (51.3) and to be ranked third in turnover margin (plus-7.5). “But (West Virginia) blocked nine shots today,” Beard said. “A blocked shot is kind of like a turnover.” … Christian Bishop collected six offensive rebounds in 19 minutes for Texas.
ACCESSING THE LANE
Huggins said his players allowed Texas to spend too much time in the lane on offense, suggesting that sometimes the officials helped.
“You don’t let them drive it into the paint and pivot seven times before they find a shot,” Huggins said. “You know, you got to double (team) them in the lane or maybe get a three-second call.”
West Virginia: Hosts Kansas State on Jan. 8. A game at TCU, scheduled for Monday, was postponed.
Texas: At Kansas State on Tuesday.