MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins and Mountaineer players felt the team was close to breaking through in Big 12 play over the last few weeks.
Losers of their first five league games, three of which they held second-half leads in and another that was tied with less than 1 minute to play, West Virginia found a way to avoid a late collapse Wednesday against No. 14 TCU at the WVU Coliseum.
The result was a 74-65 victory over the Horned Frogs that prevents the Mountaineers (11-7, 1-5) from being the final team in the Big 12 to record a league win, and marks the start of what they hope is a resurgence that gets the season heading back in their desired direction.
“We all realized we had opportunities and just kind of gave them away,” Huggins said. “We had an opportunity to beat Oklahoma at Oklahoma and to beat Oklahoma State at Oklahoma State. We’ve had plenty of opportunities and maybe could have been a whole lot better off than we are right now. Right now, I’ll settle for winning one.”
The Mountaineers held a 56-39 lead with 11:23 remaining after Kedrian Johnson sank two free throws, and they looked well on their way to a first conference triumph.
TCU (14-4, 3-3) answered with a 10-2 spurt to cut its deficit to single digits, and the Horned Frogs went into the under 8-minute timeout in the second half with Chuck O’Bannon Jr. set to shoot three free throws after WVU forward Tre Mitchell was whistled for his fourth foul.
Although O’Bannon made only 1-of-3 foul shots, Mitchell was disqualified from the contest with 7:33 to play when he was assessed a technical foul after turning it over on a play he felt he was fouled on.
Horned Frogs’ guard Mike Miles Jr. converted both foul shots from the technical, and TCU continued to charge back, pulling within 62-60 on a JaKobe Coles layup with 5:14 remaining.
“We talked in the huddle about getting back in this game, chipping away and that’s what we did,” TCU head coach Jamie Dixon said. “We got it to two, but didn’t finish it off.”
Looking as though it may let another winnable game go to waste, West Virginia instead offered just the response Huggins was seeking.
Out of a timeout, Jimmy Bell Jr. made a pair of foul shots, and two possessions later, Bell received a feed from Erik Stevenson that led to a dunk and upped the Mountaineers’ advantage to six.
“They were good in the huddle and probably better than I was,” Huggins said. “Keedy has been great. He’s without question our leader and the guy that really runs the show. He was good. Joe was good. Our bench was good. The other guys get on board when they see those guys are enthusiastic and talking about winning the game.”
Following a Miles miss, WVU guard Joe Toussaint converted a driving layup to make it 68-60 lead with 3:06 left.
TCU’s Damion Baugh answered with a bucket, but Toussaint countered again by scoring at the 2:35 mark to get the lead back to eight.
At that point, the Horned Frogs were out of responses and never got closer.
“Basketball is a game of runs and knew TCU was going to go on a run,” Toussaint said. “We stayed composed and made our run after.”
WVU led 6-4 early and went on to score 14 of the next 17 points to build a 20-7 advantage. Stevenson scored the first five points of that stretch, and four different WVU players — Mohamed Wague, Emmitt Matthews Jr., Johnson and Bell — accounted for the team’s next four field goals, with Bell’s second-chance bucket allowing the Mountaineers to lead by 13 at the 11:36 mark of the opening half.
“We prepared for physicality, but I didn’t have them prepared well enough obviously,” Dixon said.
Wague’s only other basket left West Virginia with a 28-12 advantage, and the Mountaineers’ largest lead of the contest was 39-21 after Seth Wilson scored in the paint, before the Horned Frogs closed to within 15 at halftime.
TCU, which plays in transition more than any Big 12 team and boasts one of the top fast break offenses in all of college basketball, was held without a fast break point in the first half and managed eight for the game.
“We scored and it’s hard to run when we score,” Huggins said. “And our guards are good. Keedy is one of the premier on the ball defenders in the country. He’s really good and stops a lot of penetration. We didn’t let them get on the run. They’re really good when they come at you on the run. We didn’t do it entirely, but we did it a lot better than most people have.”
The Mountaineers also manhandled the Horned Frogs on the glass to win the battle of the boards, 31-18. WVU had 14 offensive rebounds to TCU’s 14 defensive rebounds.
“It wasn’t a basketball game,” Dixon said. “This was a different game, but it was what we expected.”
Johnson scored a team and career-high 20 points. He made all 10 of his free throws and WVU was 20 for 26 as a team.
Bell added 15 points and 12 boards for his second double-double this season. He made 5-of-6 free throws after entering less than 55 percent on foul shots, including 8 for 20 over the first five Big 12 games.
“I’ve been working on my free throws and shooting almost 200 every day,” Bell said. “We’ve lost a few games because of free throws.”
The 6-foot-10, 285-pound Bell won the matchup with Eddie Lampkin, TCU’s 6-11, 263-pound center.
“I had a little motivation before the game. I had people texting me and telling me he’s the best big in the Big 12,” Bell said. “I just took it personal. He’s a good player, but I felt like I had the advantage.”
Matthews scored 10, Stevenson added nine and Toussaint contributed seven points in the victory.
West Virginia had 15 turnovers, but forced TCU into 19 despite the Horned Frogs entering averaging 11.7.
“I don’t know how many charges we had, but we must have set a record,” Dixon said.
Miles, the preseason Big 12 Player of the Year, scored 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting, but finished with six turnovers and two assists. He entered Wednesday the only player Power 5 Conference player averaging at least 19 points, three rebounds and three assists.
Miles and Johnson are cousins.
“I talked to him yesterday. Couldn’t talk to him today,” Johnson said. “It was all business. Talked to him after the game and it was all love.”
Baugh and Emanuel Miller scored 13 points apiece in defeat and Miller’s five rebounds led the team.
The Horned Frogs made 11 of their first 14 field-goal attempts after halftime and 13 of 19 in all to shoot 52 percent (22 of 42) in what marked their 11th loss in Morgantown in as many games.
West Virginia, which had recently hired assistant coach DerMarr Johnson on the bench for Wednesday’s game, welcomes No. 7 Texas at 6 p.m. Saturday.
“I’m happy we got one,” Toussaint said. “Now we just build.”