MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Bob Huggins and WVU hoops head south to Fayetteville, Ark., Saturday for their ninth appearance in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
West Virginia has been a relatively strong foe in the Big 12 since joining the league in the 2012-13 season, logging a 55.8-percent win rate and three trips to the conference title game in eight tournaments. The story is much different in the conference’s annual competition with the SEC, which began in WVU’s second season as a Big 12 member.
The Big 12 is ahead in the Big 12/SEC Challenge’s all-time scoreboard, 4-2-2. Teams in the Big 12 have knotted 44 victories and taken 35 losses over the eight seasons of the challenge.
West Virginia, however, has contributed just two wins in eight games. The Mountaineers square off against Arkansas, who will play in its eighth game of the challenge. The Razorbacks are 3-4 with one DNP (due to the size of the SEC, four teams must sit the challenge out every year).
Here’s a look back at the Mountaineers’ past results:
2013-14: Mizzou 80, West Virginia 71 at Mizzou Arena
WVU was already in the infancy of a rocky 2013-14 campaign, but its first showing in the Big 12/SEC Challenge nearly ended in disaster. The Tigers opened the game on a 16-4 run and took a 14-point lead into the halftime break. That only got wider out of the locker room, as they got out by as many as 25 points.
Then, the Mountaineers turned up their fundamentals in the later stages of the game, capitalizing on turnovers and grabbing key rebounds to help mount a comeback — but it was too little, too late, as Jordan Clarkson led Mizzou over Juwan Staten’s Mountaineers. Clarkson recorded a game-high 25 points, while four Mountaineers scored in double figures.
2014-15: LSU 74, No. 16 West Virginia 73 at the WVU Coliseum
The Mountaineers hosted the Tigers just three weeks into the season, but after the disastrous 2013-14 campaign ended with an NIT berth, fans were happy to see WVU in the AP Top 25 for two weeks in a row. LSU came to Morgantown unranked, but proved to be a tough opponent for West Virginia.
WVU got a narrow halftime lead after a neck-and-neck first half, and it turned that into a sizable lead out of halftime thanks to a substantial run to begin the final period. WVU then went scoreless for four minutes as the Tigers once again made it a game. It only took one bucket — a layup from Josh Gray in the last 10 seconds — to seal WVU’s second loss in the challenge.
2015-16: Florida 88, No. 9 West Virginia 71 at the O’Connell Center
There’s not much to say about this one. Florida dominated this game wire-to-wire as the Mountaineers struggled to make shots. The Gators largely silenced WVU’s top stars, namely holding Daxter Miles Jr. and Jevon Carter to single digits, while forward Dorian Finney-Smith went off for 24 points. WVU played catch-up from the opening tip as UF coasted to a victory.
2016-17: No. 18 West Virginia 81, Texas A&M 77 at the WVU Coliseum
What started out as an easy win for West Virginia quickly faltered to a near-nightmare as the Mountaineers built a 20-plus point lead in the second half. The Aggies made sure to keep WVU fans in their seats until the final buzzer, though, as JC Hampton cut their deficit to just two points with 15 seconds to go. Luckily, the clutch free throw shooting of Esa Ahmad made it a two possession game once again to keep WVU in front for its first win in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
Hampton scored 21 while Admon Gilder added 24 for the Aggies. Carter netted 19 for WVU.
2017-18: Kentucky 83, No. 9 West Virginia 76 at the WVU Coliseum
Another case of a game gone haywire, but this one did become a nightmare in Morgantown. A top-10 Mountaineer team hosted the unranked Wildcats in a meeting of two old friends: UK coach John Calipari and Bob Huggins. Calipari even donned the famous pullover to match his counterpart, but by the final buzzer, he had stolen more than Huggins’ signature look.
An exciting early back-and-forth between WVU and UK quickly went in favor of the Mountaineers, as they took a 15-point halftime lead in front of a packed WVU Coliseum. Again, though, the WVU offense stalled, while UK’s Kevin Knox went off from the left corner to score a season-high 34 points with five 3-pointers. Jevon Carter scored 26 points, but it wasn’t enough to make up for the struggling Mountaineer attack that finished with a 38-percent field goal rate at the buzzer.
2018-19: No. 1 Tennessee 83, West Virginia 66 at Thompson-Boling Arena
WVU’s struggling 2018-19 squad ran into a powerhouse, top-ranked Tennessee squad in Knoxville, and unfortunately for the Mountaineers, the outcome was as expected.
West Virginia hung with the Vols for the first part of the opening half, but it quickly turned south. Through most of the second half, Tennessee led by about 20 points — a deficit that WVU just couldn’t whittle down.
Three of Tennessee’s starters scored in double figures, led by the unlikely guard Lamonte Turner’s 24 points, as he shot 8-for-10 from the field. Ahmad led the Mountaineers with 16 points and seven rebounds, but they quietly got a big performance from freshman Derek Culver, who scored 15 points.
2019-20: No. 14 West Virginia 74, Mizzou 51 at the WVU Coliseum
The only easy win for West Virginia in the Big 12/SEC Challenge, WVU coasted by Mizzou after a massive second half in Morgantown. After building a big lead in the first half, the Mountaineers let the Tigers back into the game and led by just one at the break.
Within the first five minutes of the second period, though, they led by double digits, and cruised to the finish for a 23-point triumph.
Senior Jermaine Haley and freshman Miles McBrided each had 15 points for WVU, with McBride notching all of those from the field. Culver and Gabe Osabuohien combined for 23 rebounds, the bulk of WVU’s 50-board effort on the day, which dominated Mizzou’s 30 rebounds. Walk-on guard Spencer Macke also concluded the contest with a 3-pointer, his second in as many home games.
2020-21: Florida 85, West Virginia 80 at the WVU Coliseum
One of the toughest fights for West Virginia last season on the court, the Mountaineers battled with Florida right up until the final buzzer, but the strong two-way play of Colin Castleton helped give the Gators the edge they needed for a win in Morgantown.
Castleton nearly became a tragic figure for Florida, however, as he was called for a charge in the final minute of the game as the Gators led by three. That gave West Virginia the chance to tie as the clock wound down, but Florida’s pressure prevented WVU from even getting a shot off. Tyree Appleby officially put it out of reach with a pair of free throws on the other end.
That wiped away one of the best performances of Culver’s career. He notched 28 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. Sean McNeil made five 3-pointers as part of his 21-point game, but Castleton’s 21 points and seven rebounds proved to be the difference.