Jan. 23—MORGANTOWN — West Virginia hit its most critical juncture of the season Saturday, following its 78-65 loss against No. 18 Texas Tech at the United Supermarkets Arena.
The Mountaineers (13-5, 2-4 Big 12) have dropped three consecutive games, albeit against two top 10 teams in Kansas and Baylor and the nationally-ranked Red Raiders.
BOX SCORE That's not exactly the most crucial part to this story, although it's the first time WVU has lost three consecutive games since the 2019-20 season.
"My opinion is we haven't beaten a team that is worth beating, " WVU guard Taz Sherman said after scoring 21 points, but added six turnovers against Texas Tech. "We played good mid-majors. We beat a good Kansas State team, but we haven't had that team where you'd say, 'O.K., West Virginia beat them.' We lost to Kansas, lost to Baylor and lost here. We lost to Texas.
"Those are the top four teams, people say, in our conference. If we want to be one of those top teams, we have to beat one of them. We have to beat a good team to say we're a good team."
That was really well said by Sherman. As to why the Mountaineers have come up short against those teams this season is a simple matter of what you thought WVU could be has now officially met what the Mountaineers actually are.
There was once a certain amount of expectations with this team, based on its offensive potential.
We thought the combination of Sherman and Sean McNeil would perplex opposing defenses to the point if they fixated on one, the other would have a huge night.
We thought forward Jalen Bridges would figure into that mix, too, and would keep defenses guessing on whether he was going to drive to the basket or shoot a 3-pointer.
We heard how Isaiah Cottrell was a 6-foot-10 kid with the ability to step outside and knock down shots. We never expected he would become the second coming of Kevin Pittsnogle, but when he was mixed with those other three guys, it made you curious about the potential.
Malik Curry was going to drive to the basket. Pauly Paulicap and Dimon Carrigan were going to block a bunch of shots and Gabe Osabuohien had suddenly added a little offense to his game that was already known for stellar defense.
Sure, the loss of Deuce McBride at point guard and Derek Culver at center was going to hurt, but this team was going to play differently, maybe even a little quicker and excite us with athleticism and fast breaks.
Some of that has panned out, but most of it has not. Or, maybe some of it panned out for a couple of those players in some games, only to see them struggle at other times.
That's what was realized Saturday, as Texas Tech was relentless in grabbing 17 offensive rebounds and drawing 30 fouls.
The Red Raiders won ugly, winning the matchup by 13 points, while shooting only 40.7 % (24 of 59) from the field and making 25 of 36 from the foul line.
"It's on us. We can't put the blame on anybody but us, " Sherman said when asked if the game was officiated differently than other Big 12 games. "We can only control what we can control. We gave up a lot of offensive rebounds. We fouled a lot. We had four people foul out. It's on us more than anything. We can't blame anybody else."
This is not going to be that West Virginia team we had hoped for back in October. It's not going to be a team where Sherman and McNeil give you ABC, Bridges gives you XYZ and Cottrell throws in a couple of threes, as Curry lights it up on drives to the basket.
At least it's not all happening at the same time in one fluid motion.
On Saturday, you got a good game from Sherman. Bridges gave you a little bit before fouling out and Curry did have a couple of nice drives into the lane.
But, McNeil struggled, going 2 of 7 from the floor. Texas Tech's really clamped down on him and WVU quickly ran out of options to keep up.
WVU is not what we hoped for and now has to figure out something else, or this season can get worse before it gets any better.