By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
Deniz Kilicli started hot then took control of the game down the stretch as West Virginia rode its physical defense and some clutch baskets to a crucial 60-58 victory over Texas on a night made more for bobsledding than basketball.
The victory was WVU’s second straight and lifted them back to .500 at 11-11, 4-5 in the Big 12 as they try to mount a run that will carry them to an improbable bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Kilicli finished the evening with 14 points, four rebounds and two assists, tying Jabarie Hinds for game high-scoring honors. It was his key basket and free throw in the closing minutes, along with an important rebound, that gave WVU just enough breathing room at the end.
While the Mountaineers shot well for a second consecutive game, they continued to play a smothering brand of defensive basketball, as was expected by Texas coach Rick Barnes.
“I told my team that I’m not sure there’s a better defensive team out there right now, the way they finish possessions and make you work,” Barnes said prior to the game on the Big 12 coaches’ conference call.
The defense has grown as the season has gone along, Huggins forever pushing his philosophy of physical, in-your-face defense and the players creating that identity.
“As the season goes on you figure out who you are and what you have to do,” Barnes said.
It was a miserable night outside the Coliseum, a blackout hitting much of the area as snow continued to fall for the third straight day.
Roads were a mess and it was an adventure getting anywhere, the traffic lights out on Patteson Drive, which leads to the Coliseum.
Texas, however, made it for this rematch of an earlier overtime game that went to WVU, 57-53, in Austin, as did the heartiest of Mountaineer fans for the nationally televised Big Monday event on ESPN.
The building wasn’t close to half full with 4,966 on hand as play started with Kilicli taking and giving away, making the first basket then being called for traveling and leading to the tying basket.
The two teams played ragged basketball through the early going, but Texas took control of the boards and began building a lead that grew to 17-10 at a time when the Mountaineers couldn’t put anything in the basket.
It took Kilicli, who was having a strong first half, to end a drought of 7 minutes and 46 seconds without a basket, and for Eron Harris to hit his first 3 of the game to draw the Mountaineers back to within points before Ioannis Papapetrou canned a 3.
The 6-8 Papapetrou had been a non-factor in the first meeting between these two teams with one point but he was carrying Texas through the early going with eight points.
WVU kept digging away at it, and when Terry Henderson pumped home a long 3 with 3:15 left in the half the Mountaineers found themselves back in the lead for the first time since Kilicli had made it 2-0 at 22-20.
All of a sudden, WVU was making everything it threw at the basket as it scored 12 straight points.
Even Keaton Miles, who had not scored a basket since Jan. 19 against Purdue, hit a basket, and Henderson followed with a second 3 as WVU led 30-22.
A basket by Kilicli, giving him eight points, allowed the Mountaineers to go into the locker room leading 32-25.
WVU came out in the second half intent on putting Texas away, Eron Harris hitting a 3-point shot out of the gate to widen the advantage to double figures at 10.
The Longhorns, however, were starting to figure things out, and when the Mountaineers, who had played nearly turnover-free ball for more than 8 minutes, got careless, Texas took advantage big time.
They chipped away until back-to-back turnovers by Aaric Murray and Jabarie Hinds led to baskets that cut the lead to two points, an advantage that melted away on point guard Javan Felix’s jumper to tie the game at 45.
The lead seesawed back and forth as the intensity grew; at one point Texas’ Papapetrou lost his shoe in the middle of a play, WVU’s Juwan Staten picking it up and flinging it into the student section.
With WVU leading by a point, Texas’ Jaylen Bond went to the free throw line and missed a pair of free throws, creating an opening and WVU took it, going down low to Kilicli who hit a tough, off-balance shot falling away while being fouled, then making the free throw to give the Mountaineers a 58-54 lead.
WVU was next to squander chances, Staten committing an offensive foul after Kilicli pulled down a defensive rebound, then Murray wasting a steal of his by throwing the ball away.
If this did nothing else it took time off the clock and the four-point lead held into the final minute of the game.
As it was, the game ended in suspense as Aaric Murray, with a four-point lead and 0.7 seconds left to play, made a bonehead play, fouling Sheldon McClellan on a 3-point attempt. McClellan made the first two to cut the lead to two points, then intentionally missed the third shot, hoping for a tipin.
Murray, however, made amends, grabbing off the rebound to secure the game.
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.