Texas pulls away from West Virginia 61-54

AUSTIN, Texas — Matt Coleman was leaning back and was just mere inches in front of his own bench.

With West Virginia’s Wesley Harris all over him, Coleman somehow found just enough space to get off the final dagger of the night.

His 3-point shot with 1:03 remaining handed Texas a 61-54 victory against the Mountaineers.

“I just knew that we had to make a shot,” Coleman said. “I think there were only a couple of seconds left on the shot clock. I just wanted to make a play, and you know the saying about big-time players making big-time shots in big-time games.”

West Virginia had no answer for what surely was a big-time play by Coleman. On its next possession, Jordan McCabe missed an open look at a three and Esa Ahmad’s chance at an offensive putback was blocked by Dylan Osetkowski.

Coleman was fouled again and his two final free throws gave him 17 points and the final outcome.

West Virginia’s final possession was its 12th turnover of the game, as Osetkowski came up with a steal of Beetle Bolden.

“Down the stretch, we maybe would have liked some better shots. That’s something we’ll have to look at,” McCabe said. “They kept switching up defenses and I know we would have liked to hit a few more shots than what we did. That’s what it came down to, we just didn’t get enough shots to fall.”

The Mountaineers (8-6, 0-2 Big 12) opened Big 12 play with their second consecutive loss for the first time since joining the league in 2012.

They also did it without freshman point guard Brandon Knappper, who was suspended and did not travel with the team. In his pre-game radio show, Huggins said Knapper was suspended for conduct unbecoming of a Mountaineer.

“We’ll have to see,” West Virginia coach Bob Hugggins said when asked if Knapper’s suspension would be for more than one game.

It opened the door to former Fairmont Senior star Taevon Horton, a walk-on who earned his first career collegiate start. Huggins said it was a reward for Horton showing up before his teammates before practices.

He joined Cameron’s own Logan Routt as walk-ons in the Mountaineers’ starting lineup and Jermaine Haley got the start at point guard, in what continues to be a rotating door between Haley, Bolden and McCabe.

Other than that, it was business as usual for West Virginia, which struggled to shoot the ball, missed free throws and turned the ball over at critical times.

Even with all of that, a slow and deliberate pace of play kept the game low-scoring where each possession was its own little cliff hanger.

In the first half, Coleman III was able to break down the Mountaineers’ defense on a few possessions and Osetkowski used his 250-pound frame to do the same, but seven turnovers and long possessions held the Longhorns to just 21 attempts from the field over the first 20 minutes.

Huggins continued to tinker with his lineup in the second half, starting forward Eric Gordon, but he soon made way for Derek Culver, who is quickly becoming West Virginia’s go-to player in the paint.

As for outside the paint, well, that is possibly the biggest question of all for the Mountaineers.

WVU failed to shoot better than 45 percent from the field for the third consecutive game. Since the victory against Youngstown State, on Dec. 1, the Mountaineers have reached 45 percent shooting just once over the last seven games.

And with that came a long list of players who struggled, including guard Chase Harler and forward Lamont West, who are supposed to help the Mountaineers stretch defenses with their long-range shooting, but were a combined 0 for 5 in this game.

Since Ahmad’s 21-point outburst against Lehigh, he’s gone 4 of 12 shooting from the field in the first two Big 12 games.

“We’ve got guys who are struggling,” Huggins said. “They are struggling. They can’t make a shot. If we don’t go 18 for 32 [from the foul line] in the last game, that could have been a different outcome. If we could have got a few more rebounds that we needed to get, this one could have been a different outcome.”

And with Sagaba Konate still out with a right knee injury — he, too did not travel with the team — there isn’t much help for Culver on the inside.

The freshman, who missed the first 10 games of the season after being suspended for a violation of team rules, was a force in the paint, hitting one-handed baby hook shots and  spinning his way away from a Texas defender and along the baseline for a lay-up another time.

In all, Culver was the lone bright spot in the Lone Star State, finishing with 17 points and nine rebounds.

“I think with each passing game, Derek replaces [Konate’s] offense,” Huggins said. “We obviously can’t replace his shot-blocking. I think very soon Derek will be as good offensively if not more so.”

The Mountaineers will now face a difficult travel schedule that will not make things any easier.

WVU returned to Morgantown early Sunday morning from Austin in time for the start of second-semester classes on Monday.

The team will practice Tuesday before flying back out west to Manhattan, Kan. for a showdown Wednesday against Kansas State in what will be two teams with key injuries and looking to pick up their first conference win of the season.

Bolden added 13 points, but West Virginia shot just 40 percent (20 of 50) for the game, including going 10 of 26 (38.5 percent) in the second half.

Osetkowski added 14 points and seven rebounds for Texas.

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