The West Virginia Mountaineers traveled to Birmingham, Alabama to face off against the 9-2 UAB Blazers. The game was a hard fought, physical game that featured more than 35 fouls. The Mountaineers struggled once again at the free throw line shooting under 60% once again, but overcame this issue once again, winning 65-59. The Mountaineers were led by Taz Sherman’s 17 points, 15 of which came in the second half, and Sean McNeil’s 12 points.
The Mountaineers started off slow with only 4 points in the first 7 minutes of the game. After scoring 4 points in the first 4 minutes, WVU went scoreless for the next 3 minutes while turning the ball over three times.
With 13 minutes left in the first half, Bob Huggins decided to light a spark under his team and switched to a full court press defense. This, combined with WVU’s dominance on the boards, worked, and WVU closed the 14-4 deficit, outscoring the Blazers 22-15 for the remainder of the first half.
The offense was led by a committee, contrary to what we’ve seen from this team over the past few games. UAB focused on denying and doubling Taz Sherman, holding him 1-5 from the field and forcing 5 turnovers. With Taz drawing so much attention, 9 Mountaineers scored in the first half with Bridges, Cottrell, Paulicap, and Carrigan each netting 4 points a piece and no points coming from 3 point range. Despite not scoring, Keddy Johnson had two beautiful assists that led to Dimon Carrigan dunks. Despite these contributions, WVU trailed 26-29 going into halftime.
Taz started out hot in the 2nd half drilling two jumpers in the first 2 minutes of the half. However, these 5 points would be the Mountaineers’ only points until Sean McNeil’s jumper at the 14 minute mark. During this stretch, UAB pushed the pace, running early and often in transition and pushing their lead to 38-31.
The Mountaineers continued to focus on getting Taz going on offense, and while he was more effective than the first half, the scoring from other options had disappeared. When Taz subbed out for a breather with 9 minutes left, he had accounted for 9 of WVU’s 14 points. However, with Sherman resting, the team came together and cut into the Blazers 11 point lead to 3 when Taz checked in at the 5 minute mark. Also at this moment, UAB’s leading scorer for the game, KJ Buffen, fouled out.
The last 5 minutes were physical and gritty. Both the Mountaineers and Blazers battled for lose balls and attacked the rim. Fouls were as common as passes, and WVU benefited from many of these calls. The Mountaineers battled back with tough defense, with most of their points coming at the free throw line, and finally grabbed their first lead of the game with 2:38 remaining on the second of Sean McNeil’s free throws. Taz Sherman followed this up with a contested 3, which capped off 9-0 West Virginia run that spanned more than 3 minutes.
McNeil’s free throw ended up being the game winning shot. The Mountaineers’ defense stifled the Blazers and contributed heavily to WVU’s ability to hold on to the lead and close out the game. Taz Sherman and Keddy Johnson made UABs late fouls ineffective, combining to only miss one out of 8 free throw with under a minute left.
The Mountaineers return to action on December 22nd when they face off against the Youngstown State Penguins at 6PM in Morgantown. The game can be watched on ESPN+ and the Big 12 Network.