MORGANTOWN — West Virginia ganged up on Texas Tech Wednesday night inside the T-Mobile Center.
The Mountaineers used a group effort and workman-like precision to take down the Red Raiders 78-62 in the opening round of the Big 12 tournament.
Just about everyone WVU head coach Bob Huggins put on the floor contributed in some fashion, led by Kedrian Johnson’s 20 points and six rebounds.
His driving basket on an inbounds play gave WVU a 65-46 lead with 7:27 remaining and the Mountaineers simply went on cruise control from there.
“Kedy’s always been a leader,” Huggins said. “He’s been a great leader for us. We’ve got a lot of upperclassmen and they know this is it and they want to make a run.”
If there was any doubt about WVU’s inclusion into the NCAA tournament, they were erased in Kansas City, Mo., as the Mountaineers are projected safely in the tournament as either a No. 9 or 10 seed by bracket analysts.
A year after finishing last in the Big 12, the Mountaineers responded down the stretch with some of their best basketball of the season.
“Our turnovers are down and we’re rebounding the ball better,” Huggins said. “We know each other better, and I think we’re making plays now that we couldn’t make earlier, because we thought they were going to zig and they zagged.”
Up next is a chance for WVU, the No. 8 seed in the Big 12, to shock the college basketball world with a date against No. 1 seed and third-ranked Kansas at 3 p.m. Thursday.
If WVU (19-13) gets the type of overall team effort it did against Texas Tech (16-16), that quarterfinal matchup could be interesting.
It wasn’t interesting early for WVU on Wednesday, as the Red Raiders took an early 9-2 lead and the Mountaineers failed to make their first basket until Tre Mitchell nailed a 3-pointer nearly four minutes into the game.
It was certainly the kind of start Tech was looking for with the Red Raiders playing without head coach Mark Adams, who was suspended Sunday for making racially insensitive comments to one of his players.
But, WVU kept chipping away and eventually took control.
Johnson was a big reason why, but so were the rest of WVU’s starters.
Mitchell finished just one rebound shy of a double-double with 17 points and nine boards, while Stevenson scored 13 of his 18 points in the first half.
Emmitt Matthews Jr. added 13 points and Jimmy Bell Jr. contributed eight rebounds.
James Okonkwo came off the bench and added five rebounds in just 12 minutes of action, as WVU grabbed 19 offensive rebounds to extend possessions that led to the Mountaineers attempting 11 more shots than Texas Tech, which was held to just 36% (20 of 55) shooting.
“We knew rebounding was going to be a key piece to the game,” Mitchell said. “We knew going into it, as long as we controlled that area to the game we were going to be fine.”
WVU has now won four of its last five games, with the one loss coming on the road against the Jayhawks in a 76-74 setback that came down to the final possession.
Kansas has won the last five meetings against the Mountaineers.
** WVU improved to 10-9 all-time in Big 12 tournament play.
** Stevenson’s run of five consecutive games with at least 23 points came to an end.
** WVU is now 4-1 against Texas Tech on a neutral court, including a 65-60 win in the 2005 Sweet 16.
** With the retirement of Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim on Wednesday, Huggins is now the winningest active coach in Division I men’s basketball with 935 wins.
** WVU is 0-4 all-time against Kansas in the Big 12 tournament.
WVU vs. No. 3 KANSAS
WHEN: 3 p.m., Thursday
WHERE: T-Mobile Center, Kansas City, Mo.
TV: ESPN (Comcast 35, HD 850; DirecTV 206; DISH 140)
RADIO: 100.9 JACK-FM