When Texas beast West Virginia on a last-second 3-pointer in Morgantown last month, some WVU fans wanted to point blame at junior forward Emmitt Matthews Jr.
With the Mountaineers leading by one with less than a minute left, Matthews pulled down two offensive rebounds on WVU’s final possession but also went up for a shot instead of trying to dribble the final 13 seconds off the clock and missed both ensuing free throws when he was fouled. When Texas’s Andrew Jones hit the game-winning 3-points on the other end of the court, fans on Twitter quickly turned to Matthews’s as the reason WVU lost.
Inside the locker room was a different story, however. Matthews’ teammates and WVU coach Bob Huggins all came to his defense after the game. The only person in that locker room who put the loss on Matthews was, evidently, himself.
When West Virginia returned the favor to the Longhorns Saturday afternoon, coming back from a 19-point deficit to win 84-82. Matthews said he used the earlier loss as motivation.
“I put that game on myself personally,” Matthews said after Saturday’s game. “No matter what the team says, I feel like missing two free throws to potentially seal the game, I took that personal. Today I just wanted to give it my all and make sure anytime there was a loose ball I was diving for it.”
Matthews was one of three Mountaineers to score 14 points in the victory and one of five to finish in double figures. 14 points was a season-high for Matthews, who shot 4 of 8 with one 3-pointer. He also grabbed seven rebounds with one assist and a steal.
After taking a 10-point lead into the half, the Longhorns came out of the break and hit three 3-points in quick succession to swell their lead to 19. Even at that point, Matthews said the team felt like they were going to win.
“I think that’s the mentality of every team,” Matthews said. “We come into timeouts and we still say we’re going to win the game. It doesn’t matter if we’re down 10, 20, even 30. It’s just the mindset of the players, the coaches, the whole staff.”
That mentality paid off, as the Mountaineers went on to out-score Texas 41-20 from that point on.
Huggins said the was his team played in the second half is how they should always play.
“We played hard, we played hard in the second half,” Huggins said. “I think the second half is the way we need to play all the time. We haven’t done it, but that’s the way we need to play…I think they understood that we were about as bad as we could be in the first half. This group, generally, when they’re challenged they’ll step up and try to meet the challenge.”
When West Virginia finally did come all the way back, it was sophomore point guard Miles “Deuce” McBride who hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 78 and another trey that gave WVU its first lead.
“It came down to loose balls and rebounds,” McBride said. “Effort plays win games, defense wins games and when you come up with more effort plays and more stops, you’re going to win the game.”
McBride was the team’s leading scorer with 17 points while Sean McNeil scored 16 and Matthews, Derek Culver and Taz Sherman all scored 14.
Making large, improbably comebacks is nothing new to this Mountaineer team. Saturday’s win was WVU’s second this season after trailing by 19, performing the same feat against Oklahoma State at the beginning of January.
“I think that’s just the story of us,” Matthews said. “We’re a resilient bunch, we love basketball and if we find ourselves down we’re going to fight our way back.”