By Chris Jackson
West Virginia cemented the game right from the beginning.
Senior guard Jevon Carter — playing in his final game at the Coliseum alongside fellow senior guard Daxter Miles Jr. — drained a deep pull-up three after a block from sophomore Sagaba Konate to make it 10-0. A dunk from junior forward Esa Ahmad made it 12-0. Then Carter had a steal and a layup, which was followed up with a two.
Just like that, it was 16-0 Mountaineers (22-8, 11-6 Big 12) before they earned an 84-74 victory over the No. 12 Texas Tech Red Raiders (22-8, 10-7 Big 12) on Monday evening, taking a one-game lead for the second place spot in the conference standings.
“We were very excited,” Miles said. “We were going to shoot the ball regardless. Just stay with it. We needed that huge start.”
Texas Tech would rally back to make it interesting, but the absences of senior guards Keenan Evans and Justin Gray and senior forward Zach Smith played a role in the struggles early on. The absence of Evans (toe injury), who averages a team-best 17.2 points per game, was especially felt.
“Keenan Evans is really, really good,” said WVU head coach Bob Huggins. “He’s really good. I think that would be like us losing JC.”
With Konate on the bench after picking up his second foul with 9:14 remaining in the second half, Texas Tech started to climb back. It went on a 21-8 run, and eventually closed the half outscoring WVU 22-15, but still trailed 42-29.
The Red Raiders would cut the deficit to 44-37 after a three from junior guard Brandone Francis, which were his only points of the game. But WVU redshirt sophomore forward Lamont West responded with a three to make it 44-37, and after that, the Mountaineers never relinquished a double-digit advantage.
“Basketball is about runs,” Miles said. “They’re going to score. You’ve got to try to control the tempo and not try to let them get super hot.”
Carter and Miles provided the biggest impacts in their final time competing at the Coliseum. Carter finished with 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting, seven assists, three steals and three rebounds, while Miles scored a team-high 21 points on 5-of-10 shooting (four threes) and added four assists.
Both checked out to a loud ovation with 23 seconds remaining, and then stood at halfcourt and walked by the student section during the postgame rendition of “Country Roads.”
“I’ve done a lot of Senior Nights, obviously,” Huggins said. “I’ve never seen two seniors go down and kiss the floor like they did and mean it. Those two guys love this place, love the program and will be forever committed to this university and the people in the state, which is an awesome thing.”
Ahmad put forth his second consecutive double-double behind a big rebounding effort. He scored 11 points despite a 25 percent mark from the field and hauled in 11 rebounds, which tied the career-high he set Saturday against Iowa State.
“Huggs has been preaching that to me — just to stay on the glass” Ahmad said. “That’s what I’ve been trying to do.”
It was exactly the way WVU wanted to send Carter and Miles out on Senior Night. But they also don’t want this to be the end, or anywhere near it.
There is still one more regular season game at noon Saturday at Texas. Then the Big 12 Tournament. Then the NCAA Tournament.
They want to make a deep run come March.
“Perfect Senior Night,” Miles said. “We won. My family was here. The crowd was involved. It’s great. It ain’t over yet. We’re trying to go far, but great Senior Night…I’m ready. We ready.”