By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Deniz Kilicli had to stop practicing on Friday because he was injured.
“We were doing five-on-five stuff and someone tried to strip the ball and I felt my shoulder pop,” the West Virginia University senior said.
He left practice, but he made sure he didn’t miss Saturday’s game, although if you took a vote among the Texas Tech players you can rest assure they would have voted for him to take a recovery day.
In between Ibuprofen doses, he scored a career-high 25 points while hitting 9 of 11 shots and pulled down eight rebounds as he led the Mountaineers to a sloppy but necessary 66-64 victory over Texas Tech before an announced crowd of 10,530.
“In a game you don’t feel pain,” Kilicli said.
Instead, you inflict it, and that’s what he did a time when the Mountaineers have to virtually win out to get Kilicli to the NCAA tournament in his senior year … something they don’t figure to do as they play all the best teams in the Big 12 down the stretch.
In many ways, this game was far closer than it needed to be or should have been. WVU turned the ball over 18 times and made just 24 of a season-high 41 free throws, taking advantage of 30 fouls by Texas Tech.
“The truth of the matter is you go 24-for-41 from the free-throw line and turn it over 18 times and still win is really pretty remarkable,” WVU coach Bob Huggins said.
“Just do the math, it’s a huge key,” Texas Tech coach Chris Walker said of the fouls that caused three of his best players to foul out, another reason why WVU should have been waltzing down the stretch. “Every single time we are trying to be physical and play hard …”
He didn’t finish.
There would be no sympathy from the Mountaineers, especially Kilicli, who has had his foul problems but now seems to have it figured out.
“I definitely try to keep my hands out of it. I’ve learned some things in three years,” he said.
All that, and still it came down to a last possession and a single shot.
How that happened is hard to say, especially since Eron Harris had another of his big second-half performances, scoring 10 second-half points and finishing behind Kilicli with 15.
But somehow Texas Tech, which is 9-14 and just 2-10 in the conference as compared to 13-12 and 6-6 for West Virginia, hung tough and kept the pressure on much better than when WVU beat them by 16 in Lubbock, 77-61.
WVU had a two-point lead, WVU worked for a good shot and got it, Juwan Staten driving to the basket for a layup that somehow he managed to botch badly, giving it no chance to go in.
All of sudden Texas Tech had the ball and was off and running on what seemed to be a 3-on-2 break, giving them a big chance to tie the game … until the Tech coach called a timeout.
It seemed a weird thing to do at that moment, given the circumstances.
Huggins wouldn’t venture a guess why that would happen.
“You’d have to ask him,” Huggins said.
And guard Gary Browne, who was out on the court at the time trying to defend, would only say, “I guess they didn’t see the break. That’s part of the game.”
Indeed it is, and so they had to bring the ball in bounds in backcourt and go against a pressure defense, one that was trying to force them into a mistake or just into using up the final 9.5 seconds, which is just what happened.
In the end, Josh Gray threw up a long, desperation 3-point try that was very short, just nicking the front of the rim.
But why not? He’s a 19 percent 3-point shooter.
And so it was that the victory was preserved and Kilicli’s finest moment of a trying year was salvaged.
He drew a lot of the fouls during the game as they helped on him, hitting 7 of 14 free throws, and they never really denied him the ball.
“They were letting me catch it and once I did I went straight up,” Kilicli said.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.