KANSAS CITY, Mo.–Things haven’t gone West Virginia’s way at times this basketball season, but the second-seeded Mountaineers’ luck changed on Friday night.
WVU was up by two points with 1.8 seconds to go in the game and Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield launched a half-court shot that bounced off the backboard and went in. Every Oklahoma fan in the Sprint Center exploded in cheers.
Hield ran over to press row and jumped on the tables celebrating, but then his luck changed for the worst. The officials reviewed the shot and waved it off because the senior didn’t release the ball before time expired.
And the Mountaineers erupted in celebration. They finally got redemption for the two regular season losses against the third-seeded Sooners.
“You don’t want to turn him loose, but you sure don’t want to foul him,” head coach Bob Huggins said. “And I think that’s what our guys are thinking. They’re trying to slow him down, but at the same time they are trying not to foul him because he is a 90% free throw shooter. So I guess we take our chances, the heave from half court rather than putting him to the line for two.”
With the 69-67 win, WVU (26-7) will be making its first ever appearance in a Big 12 Championship.
Jevon Carter scored 26 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the field. The sophomore guard made 6-of-9 from 3-point range.
Isaiah Cousins led Oklahoma (25-7) with 15 points. Christian James scored a career-high 13 points and Ryan Spangler had 12. Jordan Woodard added 11.
Tarik Phillip knocked down a 3 with 7:00 minutes remaining to give the Mountaineers a 59-47 lead.
But the Sooners weren’t going to go away without a fight.
Oklahoma used a 15-2 run capped by a 3-pointer from James to take a 62-61 lead with 2:55 remaining.
The two teams exchanged punches several times before a pullup jumper from Paige gave WVU a 68-67 edge with 11 seconds to go.
James missed a layup at the other end. Jonathan Holton grabbed the rebound and was fouled.
The 6-foot-7 senior forward missed the first free throw but made the second, giving Hield one last shot at being the hero, but he was unable to get the shot off before time expired.
Holton drained a 3 from the top of the key to give WVU a 25-17 lead with 5:03 remaining in the first. Spangler responded with a 3-pointer to pull the Sooners within five but Daxter Miles Jr. sank one from beyond the arc to put the Mountaineers back up eight.
Williams’ layup gave WVU a 30-29 lead at the half. Carter scored 14 points in the first half.
The Mountaineers’ pressure defense troubled the Sooners the entire game. “Press Virginia” forced a 21 turnovers, leading to 24 points. WVU had 11 steals.
“It’s kind of a crazy game in a lot of ways,” head coach Lon Kruger said. “I thought West Virginia had us on our heels with their press. I don’t think we handled that well at all. They dictated for the most part and then rebounded well. Then when you play West Virginia and you don’t handle the pressure very well, don’t rebound very well, you’re going to dig yourself a hole, which we did.
“Then the guys did find a way to fight back and get back into the ball game there late. Then, of course, with the crazy ending, came up a little bit short. But, you know, we’ve got to take steps from here and move on to the next opportunity.”
The Mountaineers’ defense shut down Hield most of the night, holding the senior to just six points.
“We just tried to make it a team effort and tried to limit his attempts and switch people on and off him, tried to wear him down,” Paige said. “We felt like we did a good job doing it.”
“To add to that, you know, playing him the first two times, we let him get away from us,” Carter added. “He hit a lot of open shots. He really hurt us at our place. This game was revenge. We came here with a goal, that was to win the Big 12 championship, that’s what we’re here to do.”
WVU shot 38 percent from the field and made 10-of-22 from 3.
The Sooners shot 49 percent from the floor and sunk 11-of-21 from beyond the arc.
The Mountaineers have not won a conference tournament since the Big East in 2010, the same year they went to the Final Four.
The Mountaineers will take on No. 1 Kansas on Saturday at 6 p.m. (ET) in the championship game.