Columbus, Ohio–Even though West Virginia had seniors Gary Browne and Juwan Staten back, the Mountaineers found the game in the hands of an underclassman.
Tarik Phillip nailed a three-pointer with 28 seconds left and the shot clock ticking down, helping the fifth-seeded Mountaineers beat 12th-seeded Buffalo 68-62 on Friday afternoon in their NCAA Tournament opener.
Devin Williams had 17 points and nine rebounds for the Mountaineers. Staten scored 10 points in his return from a knee injury. Daxter Miles Jr. had 10 and Phillip added nine.
Xavier Ford led the Bulls with 16 points. Shannon Evans had 15 points and Justin Moss added 13.
Buffalo went scoreless in the final 2:42 minutes when the Mountaineers’ press defense finally caught up with them.
The Bulls pulled within one point on a three-point play by Ford with 3:27 left in the game. A little over a minute later he tied it 62-all with a three.
With 2:10 to play, Williams gave West Virginia the lead when he made both free throws.
With the shot clock down to its final seconds, Staten drove to the basket and passed it to his left. As the shot clock expired, Phillip’s shot rattled the net.
“The previous possessions I got my shot blocked, so I was just thinking to get it up,” Phillip said. “When he found me, I just thought, get it up on the rim.”
Huggins didn’t intend for Phillip to be on the floor for the final minutes of the game, but had forgot to pull the freshman.
“And really I kind of thought why didn’t I get him out and get J.C. (Jevon Carter) in to shoot the ball on penetration,” Huggins said. “And my absentmindedness probably won the game.”
Gary Browne and Staten both started for the Mountaineers for the first time since Feb.
West Virginia started the game on a 7-0 run, but Evans pulled Buffalo within two with a three with 16:05 to play in the first half.
Elijah Macon gave West Virginia a 22-9 lead with 10:34 left, but Buffalo refused to go away.
Raheem Johnson had a couple huge dunks and Moss and Evans were hitting shots. A layup by Evans with 7:19 left cut the deficit to 27-19.
After Ford hit a huge three with 5:35 left in the first half, Buffalo trailed by just four points.
Jaysean Paige dropped a three with 3:27 remaining to give the Mountaineers a 32-24 lead. Staten then scored the last four points of the half and West Virginia had 36-26 lead.
The Mountaineers will take on Maryland on Sunday.