Texas Tech’s hopes of moving up the Big 12 Conference ladder took a nose dive in a hurry against West Virginia on Saturday.
There the Red Raiders were, down by four with 6 1/2 minutes to go after Josh Gray’s rebound and putback. The crowd was surging. Tech was eyeing a second straight home win. It was right there for the taking.
Then the home team wilted, an avalanche of turnovers turning a white-knuckle affair into a humbling 77-61 setback, the fifth in Tech's last six games.
“It’s been our Achilles’ heel all year long,” Tech coach Chris Walker said. “It just comes a time where we have to mature and get past those tough times.”
After Gray’s layup, Tech (9-10, 2-6 in the Big 12) turned the ball over on four straight possessions. West Virginia (10-11, 3-5) converted all of those miscues into points on the way to a 16-1 run and a much-needed road win.
“When the game was over we were kind of shocked,” said Tech guard Ty Nurse, who started for the first time this year and scored a season-high 14 points. “We kind of let it slip (away), turned the ball over too much. During those times it’s crunch time, so every possession matters a lot.”
West Virginia capitalized on the first two turnovers with back-to-back 3-pointers by Eron Harris — who scored 15 of his game-high 18 points in the second half — and Gary Browne. That stretch was part of one of West Virginia’s best shooting performances of the season. The Mountaineers shot 56.5 percent from the floor, including a 10 of 18 mark from 3-point range.
The Mountaineers entered the game as the worst-shooting team in the Big 12 at 39.4 percent.
“The one thing they did is make shots,” Walker said. “That’s one thing we didn’t anticipate. That’s something they had struggled with all year.”
Despite West Virginia’s torrid pace from the floor, the Red Raiders traded blows with the physical Mountaineers for much of the afternoon. Tech didn’t grab a rebound for the first 6 1/2 minutes of the game and trailed by 12 points early.
But Jaye Crockett energized his squad with a personal 7-0 run to cut the lead to five, and Nurse’s 3-pointer with two seconds left in the opening half sent Tech to the locker room down just three, 34-31.
The margin stayed around two possessions for the first seven minutes of the second half. Then, in a flash, West Virginia wrestled momentum with crushing sequence.
With Tech trailing, 42-38, Crockett (13 points) missed a 3-pointer and Harris hit a trey on the other end. West Virginia was fouled underneath the basket during the play, and Juwan Staten knocked down 1 of 2 free throws.
On Tech’s next possession, Staten stole the ball in for an uncontested dunk. All of a sudden, Tech was down 48-38 despite having a chance to cut the deficit to one point just moments earlier.
“That was definitely big for us,” Staten said. “We need any kind of momentum we can get.”
The Red Raiders wouldn’t get closer than four points the rest of the way.
The Mountaineers, who turned it over 18 times themselves, scored 27 points off Tech’s 22 turnovers. The Red Raiders have turned it over 41 times in the last two games.
“We have to learn from our mistakes,” Nurse said, “not make the same mistakes twice. We’ve got young guards, but their good and they are going to learn from this. Hopefully down the road, when we’re in situations like this, we won’t make the same mistake.”
Jordan Tolbert and Gray scored 10 points apiece. Aaric Murray (12 points), Staten (11) and Browne (11) joined Harris in double figures for the Mountaineers.
Despite the late-game collapse, Walker said he was encouraged by several aspects of Saturday’s game. Tech shot 47.6 percent from the floor and 44.4 percent (4 of 9) from 3-point range. After a slow start on the boards, Tech was more physical while coming up the short side of a 24-22 rebounding edge for West Virginia.
In short, Tech once again showed its capable of being in the game against quality opponents. That’s something, Walker pointed out, this team wasn’t doing earlier in the season. But there are still miles of progress to be made.
“There’s plays where I know they are better than that, but they just make careless plays,” Walker said. “There is progression. If the guys can work hard the next couple of days — and it’s my job to make sure they have the right energy and enthusiasm — I believe we can beat Kansas State on Tuesday.”
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