Overturned half-court shot gives WVU pulse-pounding win over Oklahoma
For about 30 minutes, Friday night's Big 12 Tournament semifinal looked like one of the purest expressions yet of the basketball ethos that is “Press Virginia.”
But things are usually never that easy, and the Mountaineers endured one of the wildest finishes in recent memory to claim a 69-67 semifinal win over No. 6 Oklahoma (25-7).
No. 9 West Virginia (26-7) will play No. 1 Kansas in the Mountaineers' first Big 12 Tournament final at 6 p.m. Saturday.
West Virginia's emotions went wildly up, then wildly down, then wildly up again in the span of a few minutes.
With his team down one point with no timeouts and time dwindling, WVU guard Jaysean Paige made a go-ahead, pull-up jumper with 11 seconds left.
“I just felt like I had to step up and try to make a play for my team,” Paige said.
For a moment, at least, it looked like that shot would not matter.
With time expiring, Oklahoma star Buddy Hield banked in a half-court, game-winning shot, sending the Wooden Award candidate leaping into the stands in celebration.
“It was like a movie,” point guard Jevon Carter said. “You watch a movie. They have the camera on the main character the whole time. You know it's going to be a tough game in the championship game. The main character hits a tough shot; they win. It was like, ‘Man, did that really just happen?' ”
But once Hield stepped back onto the court, he discovered the officials were reviewing the shot. They found that the ball left Hield's fingertips a fraction of a second too late. Game over: West Virginia survives.
West Virginia forced 21 turnovers, and Carter scored 26 points.
Hield, meanwhile, had his most ineffective offensive games of the season — six points on 1-of-8 shooting.
The Big 12's leading scorer, who tallied 39 points in Oklahoma's quarterfinal win over Iowa State on Thursday, did not score against West Virginia until it was almost halftime. The Mountaineers' defense denied him the ball most of the game.
“I think we got very physical with him,” Carter said. “We made him not want the ball and wore him down. He played a lot of minutes. So we kept a fresh guy on him and kept wearing him down, kept making him take tough shots, and all we have to do is just rebound it.”
In a sloppy first half reminiscent of West Virginia's quarterfinal win over TCU, Oklahoma and West Virginia combined for 18 turnovers, and WVU shot just 33 percent from the field. The Mountaineers seemingly could not make a shot unless it was from beyond the 3-point arc. They made 6 of 11 on 3s but just 5 of 22 inside the arc.
A night after making three 3-pointers against TCU, Carter continued his hot shooting, hitting his first four long-range tries in the first half.
Carter didn't stop there, nailing his first two 3-pointers of the second half, part of an 8-0 run to put the Mountaineers up eight.
WVU's momentum disappeared quickly as Oklahoma reeled off a 12-0 run down the stretch, capped off by a Christian James 3-pointer to give the Sooners their first lead since the first half and set up the heart-stopping finish.
Tarik Phillip briefly gave West Virginia the lead back with layup, but Isaiah Cousins immediately responded with a go-ahead 3-pointer before Paige made the winning shot.
David Statman is a freelance writer.