MORGANTOWN — It was nothing personal, at least that’s what both Kedrian Johnson and Markquis Nowell said following West Virginia’s 89-81 victory on Saturday.
It looked certainly looked personal, as the two speedy point guards battled back and forth, one trying to outperform the other.
“I know Kedrian, it was nothing personal,” said Nowell, who finished with 24 points and eight assists. “That’s just basketball. You talk and tell him what you see. We have that connection, but it was nothing personal.”
On the other end was Johnson, known for his defensive abilities, but he came out on the short end of the battle back in January, when Nowell lit WVU up with 23 points and 10 assists in an overtime victory.
Now it was Johnson’s turn to play in front of the home crowd, and he did not back down.
They pushed and talked and then pushed each other some more.
When Johnson, who finished with 23 points and six assists, would score on a driving lay-up, Nowell would answer with a 25-foot 3-pointer.
“I look forward to those matchups, because he’s a great point guard,” Johnson said. “He averages double-digits in point and assists almost. I took that kind of personal, because he’s one of the best point guards in this league. That adds fuel to the fire.”
The best moment between the two may have come midway through the second half, when Nowell stole the ball from Johnson and raced down the court for what appeared to be an easy lay-up.
Except Johnson came from behind and blocked Nowell’s shot. The possession went the other way and Erik Stevenson nailed a 3-pointer that gave WVU a 64-57 lead with 10:20 remaining.
As the ball was heading the other way, Johnson glanced back and had some words for Nowell.
“That’s just emotion at that point,” Johnson said. “I can’t say what I said. I wish I could, but I can’t say.”
What the wins means
WVU (18-13, 7-11 Big 12) locked up the No. 8 seed in next week’s Big 12 tournament.
That, in part, was solidified with Oklahoma State’s 71-68 victory against Texas Tech on Saturday. If Texas Tech had won that game, the Mountaineers could have moved up to the No. 7 seed.
The Mountaineers, who won their 600th all-time game inside the Coliseum, will now play Texas Tech at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the opening round at the T-Mobile Center in Kansas City. The winner advances to face top-seeded Kansas at 3 p.m. Thursday.
WVU split with the Red Raiders during the regular season, with each team winning on the road.
The Big 12 tournament, though, now seemingly has a different feel for WVU, which feels it is comfortably in the NCAA tournament regardless of what happens in Kansas City.
“We’re in,” Stevenson said. “If we’re not in, I don’t know what else to do. Who else do we got to beat? Do we got to play Joe Lunardi (ESPN bracketologist) one on one? There’s no more pressure (for the Big 12 tourney). Tonight was the pressure.”
News and notes
** Stevenson’s five 3-pointers gives him 73 on the season, good enough for 10th place on WVU’s all-time season list. Frank Young holds the record with 117 threes in a single season. Stevenson also scored 27 points, his fifth consecutive game with at least 23 points.
** No. 11 Kansas State was the 11th nationally-ranked team WVU has played, which ties a school record for the regular season. WVU is 4-7 this season against AP Top 25 teams.
** Among those in attendance Saturday included Cleveland Cavaliers general manager Mike Gansey, a WVU alum and former men’s standout from 2004-06.
** With 14,111 in attendance at the Coliseum on Saturday, WVU’s average season attendance finished at 12,003 per game, the fourth time in school history it eclipsed the 12,000-mark. The school record is 12,377 set during the 2009-10 Final Four season.