Bob Huggins looked at the stats sheet and marveled at how his West Virginia Mountaineers stayed close in an 81-71 Big 12 Tournament title game loss to Kansas with his team shooting 13 percent on three-pointers and the Jayhawks making 60 percent.
The reason was Devin Williams.
In perhaps the best performance of his career, Williams finished with 31 points and 10 rebounds. The Mountaineers’ next highest scorer had seven points.
The point total was a career best for Williams, a 6-foot-8 junior forward from Cincinnati.
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“That’s the best he’s finished all year,” Huggins said. “Devin is a really good player, and he’s the guy we go to when things aren’t going the way we’d like for them to go.”
West Virginia, 26-8, had outlasted Oklahoma the previous night to reach its first Big 12 title game, and the Mountaineers’ shooters never found a rhythm Saturday night at the Sprint Center.
But as long as Williams was operating in the paint, West Virginia had a weapon. When the Jayhawks opened a double-digit lead in the second half, Williams would assert himself and bring his team back.
“I just wanted this so bad, for my guys, for us, for this program,” Williams said. “I was just doing whatever I could to help us get the win.”
Turned out, the effort was historic for West Virginia. Williams was the second West Virginia player, and first since 1960, to record 30 and 10 in fewer than 30 minutes played. Williams logged 29.
Williams was the lone West Virginia player on the Big 12 All-Tournament team, and he joined two others who had 30-point games during the event, Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield and Iowa State’s Georges Niang.
But Williams’ performance came in the third of three games, and he was on target from the outset. At halftime, Williams had made all seven field goals and had 18 points as the Mountaineers, who had trailed most of the first half, pulled ahead 34-33.
In the second half, Williams found several bodies around him when he caught the ball, and he chided himself for not doing more in those occasions.
West Virginia needed all it could get from Williams. The defensive pressure helped force 20 Kansas turnovers, but West Virginia committed 20 of its own. The Jayhawks scored 26 points off of those West Virginia mistakes, the Mountaineers’ 15 off KU errors. For the Mountaineers to be successful, that number has to be reversed.
The focus now is the NCAA Tournament. West Virginia made strides in Kansas City. The tournament was their fourth as Big 12 members and the Mountaineers hadn’t won a game at the Sprint Center until this year.
West Virginia started a countdown in their postgame locker room.
“We’ve got 240 minutes,” Williams said.
That’s the time remaining in the season if the Mountaineers play six games, reaching the NCAA Tournament title game.