Deniz Kilicli has had his ups and downs as a West Virginia Mountaineer over a four-year career when he has been cheered and jeered by friends, foes, coaches and media alike.
But Saturday he put up a career-high 25 points, though visiting Texas Tech almost ruined his performance.
“There were times I didn’t feel like I was doing the best I can,” Kilicli said after a narrow 66-64 victory over the Red Raiders. “Not because I didn’t want to, I just couldn’t do it. It was more like a mental breakdown for me. And actually a lot of people tried to get me down more than trying to get me up.
“But in the end, when everything was going really bad I talked to (coach Bob Huggins). And Huggs picked me up. And I trust him – I don’t trust anybody else. He told me some stuff, and I trusted him, and then I start playing better because I was mentally in better shape.”
A potential game-winning shot by Texas Tech’s Josh Gray hit the front of the rim at the buzzer.
Gray’s shot came from about 23 feet out after he took the ball inbounds from a teammate three-quarters of the court away.
The Mountaineers (6-6 Big 12 Conference, 13-12) were comfortably ahead 61-53 with 3:19 left, but Texas Tech (2-10, 9-14) made three 3-point shots in a span of 2:45 in an attempt to snap what is now a six-game losing streak.
Kilicli’s point total surpassed his 22-point effort against Providence Feb. 5, 2012.
“Obviously, Deniz played pretty well,” Huggins said. “I think if we could pass the ball better he could’ve gotten 40. He did a great job of sealing, and I thought he was open quite a few more times than what we actually did get him the ball.”
Kilicli was 9 of 11 from the floor after shooting at 50 percent over his previous four games.
“Truth is we ask him to do a whole lot of stuff,” Huggins said. “And at the end of the day, Deniz is not a quitter. Everybody gets frustrated, I mean I may be at the head of the class when it comes to frustration, but he’s not a quitter. That’s not Deniz. He’s a talented guy and enjoys a lot of things.”
Eron Harris had 15 points for West Virginia. It was his ninth double-figures effort since being inserted into the starting lineup 10 games ago.
Texas Tech had four players in double figures. Sixth-man Jaye Crockett had a double-double (18 points, 10 rebounds) before fouling out. Dusty Hannahs, who was 4 of 8 behind the 3-point stripe, had 12 points, Jamal Williams 11 and Jordan Tolbert 10.
Dejan Kravic and Tolbert also fouled out for the Red Raiders.
It was the third sweep of a Big 12 team in West Virginia’s inaugural season after coming over from the Big East. Earlier, the Mountaineers had knocked off Texas and TCU twice. West Virginia’s six victories have come against the bottom three teams in the 10-team league.
West Virginia seemed to be cruising along, ahead by eight with 3:19 to go.
But Texas Tech interim coach Chris Walker and his Red Raiders had other ideas. Not only had they lost five in a row, but nine of their last 10 games. Eight of the nine setbacks had come by double figures.
“It is very difficult, especially this time of year, when you have a young, inexperienced team,” Walker said, “to come out here — which I think is one of the toughest places to play — and represent themselves the way they did.”
Crockett, one of the league’s best sixth men, was 7 of 12 from the floor and hauled down six offensive boards after coming off the bench. His 3-pointer with 2:45 showing made it 61-56.
West Virginia big man Aaric Murray, who has also been coming off the bench even though he is the Mountaineers’ leading scorer (9.3 points per game coming in), contributed an old-fashioned three-point play to give West Virginia another eight-point advantage, but the Red Raiders would not go away.
Gray, who was 1 of 9 from the field, came back with two free throws for Texas Tech, followed by the first of consecutive treys by the freshman Hannahs. With 1:37 left, those points reduced West Virginia’s lead to 64-61.
Kilicli picked up a loose ball in the lane, then battled for the basket to give the Mountaineers a 66-61 advantage with 1:12 to go. But Hannahs clicked again from long range with 46.8 remaining to make it 66-64.
West Virginia’s Juwan Staten seemed to have an open layup at the other end of the floor but missed his shot, and Texas Tech called time out at the 9.5-second mark.
“I asked the guys at the timeout if they wanted to win the game, or go to overtime,” Walker said. “What was in my mind was Tolbert was out, Crockett was out and Dejan (Kravic) was out. (Toddrick) Gotcher was in at (forward), and Ty (Nurse) was hurt. So it was going to be very tough for us to play another five minutes. I ran a play for a 3; I knew they were going to guard (Hannahs) so we brought (Williams) through the gate, and clear out for Dusty. If they tried something tricky, we wanted Josh (Gray) to drive it because the side was cleared out. He’s a good player, he decided to take a 3, we would have suggested that he drive it, but if he made the 3 we would be having a different conversation right now.”
West Virginia shot 48.7 percent from the floor (19 of 39), including 58.8 percent (10 of 17) in the second half. It also owned a 39-29 advantage on the boards. But Texas Tech matched the Mountaineers 12-12 in offensive caroms. The home team also turned the ball over 18 times to Texas Tech’s 13 miscues.
West Virginia was woeful from the free throw line, shooting 58.5 percent (24 of 41). The Mountaineers got to the line 23 more times than the Red Raiders, who cashed 11 of 18 (61.1 percent).
“Just do the math,” Walker said, “it’s a huge key. Every single time we are trying to be physical and play hard. We had more than enough opportunities to do what we needed to do. It certainly makes it tougher, but we had more than enough opportunities to make plays.”