West Virginia got a big boost off the bench Wednesday against Texas Tech at the United Supermarkets Arena.
As a result, the Mountaineers’ 12-game losing streak in Big 12 games is over.
After trailing 10 less than 7 minutes into the contest, West Virginia rode their bench production, dominance and strong free throw shooting to control the rest of the contest and claim a 76-61 win.
The Mountaineers (12-8, 2-6) took 50 points off their bench, including career-bests from Joe Toussaint and Seth Wilson, who scored 22 and 15 points, respectively.
“Our starters didn’t have any pop,” WVU head coach Bob Huggins said on postgame radio. “These are the guys who have played the most minutes so far and they have dragged on a bit. I thought we’d go to some younger guys and guys who have more pop and who are really good.”
That includes James Okonkwo, a 6-foot-8 sophomore who had played 42 minutes in all Big 12 games this season through Wednesday. Against the Red Raiders, Okonkwo made the most of his 22 minutes with five points, a career-high 10 rebounds and two blocks, including a highlight-worthy two-handed one that prevented a dunk from the Red Raiders’ Daniel Batcho with 6:25 remaining and the Mountaineers lead by nine.
“I’ve said and said and said that James is really talented,” Huggins said. “He’s a guy who’s outgrown tennis. This is basically what happened to him. He has all kinds of potential. It’s about us continuing to work with him and he letting us continue to work with him. He has a great basketball future ahead of him.”
After the Mountaineers fell 10-2 behind, Huggins opted for extensive substitutions at 5:03 in the matchup.
Wilson made a 3-pointer 28 seconds later to start WVU’s 13-8 surge over a nearly 6-minute stretch. Wilson’s triple 9:03 before halftime left the Mountaineers trailing 18:15, and Toussaint struck from distance at 5:18 before halftime to deny Texas Tech’s lead (10:10, 0:8). 21:18 to shorten.
“We’ve got some broken guys, but our bench was really good,” Huggins said. “Joe came in and did a great job for us.”
Less than a minute later, Tech’s Kerwin Watson was booed for a personal foul and a technical foul in the same sequence, and Erik Stevenson took 4 of 4 free throws to give the Mountaineers their first advantage at 22-21.
WVU trailed 28-27 after the Red Raiders’ Robert Jennings scored a 1-55 goal before halftime.
The Mountaineers then went on a 6-0 sprint to end the half, which included a free throw from Jimmy Bell, two from Mohamed Wague and a three from Tre Mitchell that marked the only points for a player ranked as the top scorer in the Mountaineers started but was limited to 20 minutes due to four fouls.
Tech was down 34-31 just over 2 minutes into the second half when Red Raiders head coach Mark Adams was assessed for a technical foul that again resulted in Stevenson taking 4 of 4 free throws, giving the Mountaineers up to that point in time had achieved their greatest lead.
Though the Red Raiders responded with six unanswered points and trailed 38-37 to De’Vion Harmon’s Springer, Wilson responded with a three that extended the lead to four.
Tech trailed again by 12:55 after Jennings’ two free throws, and Wilson immediately responded with a 3 that allowed WVU to lead 45-41 at the 12:42 mark.
Wilson’s last treble allowed the Mountaineers to lead 49-47, although the Red Raiders’ Kevin Obanor immediately responded with one of his own.
But at the next 5:12, the Red Raiders scored just a field goal while the Mountaineers took control, starting with Stevenson’s 3 followed by Okonkwo’s conventional three-pointer play.
Toussaint hit 4-of-4 free throws over a 1:35 span to increase the WVU advantage to 61-50 with 6:09 remaining.
The Red Raiders didn’t get any closer than the right the rest of the way and Toussaint helped seal the result with a jump at the 3:58 mark and four free throws shortly after, the last of which the Red Raiders scored 69-56. residue confronted.
Curiously, 35 of WVU’s 51 field goal attempts came from afar. The Mountaineers also made 28 of 35 free throws and scored all but 18 points on three-pointers and foul shots.
“They played really physically,” Huggins said. “We couldn’t even get close to it and when we did they double matched us and sometimes triple matched. We wanted to spread them out and make cuts and if they tried to cover the edge that way hopefully we’d do a few jump shots and luckily we did.”
Toussaint made 12 of 14 free throws and Stevenson hit 9 of 11 attempts in his 16-point effort that also included 10 rebounds.
Obanor led Tech with 20 points and eight rebounds while Harmon added 14 points.
Red Raiders freshman guard Pop Isaacs scored two points in 18 minutes before finally leaving the game 15-24 with an ankle injury.
The Red Raiders hit just 3 of 20 Treys and were outplayed 30-9 behind the arc.
West Virginia finished with a 44-27 rebound advantage for its first conference road win since Feb. 23, 2021 at TCU.
The Mountaineers again struggled with turnovers, finishing 19 to 13 over the Red Raiders.
“It’s relief. We gave away so many games,” Huggins said. “We were so close. We tried today. We can’t turn it around that often. We’ve flipped it so many times and made silly trades. You didn’t force us to make these sales. We did it ourselves. We have to clean that up. We better hit the ball back. We have more guys that we can trust when they score goals.”
WVU starting point guard Kedrian Johnson had 42 points in the last two games but was limited to four in 15 minutes and didn’t play the final more than 14 minutes after leaving with an ankle injury.
“He’s had it for a while,” Huggins said. “It wasn’t the first sprain. Joe got beat up and he was better than the rest of these guys that got beat up. We need to go home and rest.”