AUSTIN, Texas — After back-to-back losses, Texas coach Shaka Smart pleaded for his players to show more emotion and swagger heading into the key stretch of the season.
They delivered both in a big way Tuesday night.
Isaiah Taylor scored 23 points and Eric Davis Jr. added 15 and led a flurry of 3-pointers that sparked the 24th-ranked Longhorns to an 85-78 victory over No. 10 West Virginia.
"We do a great job of responding," Taylor said. "Coach Smart lit a fire under all of us."
Davis made four 3-pointers in the first half and Texas (17-9, 8-5 Big 12) had 10 in the game in capping a regular-season sweep of the Mountaineers. For Davis, it was a huge turnaround after he scored a total of seven points in the previous four games.
"Swagger is basically energy, that’s all it is," Davis said. "Isaiah has been a great teammate, telling me I’d be needed down the stretch. It’s target practice when you’ve got a great guard like him."
Tarik Phillip scored 19 points for West Virginia (20-6, 9-4), which dropped one game behind No. 2 Kansas in the Big 12.
Jaysean Paige, the Mountaineers’ leading scorer at 14.0 points per game, injured an ankle in the first half and never returned. He missed two shots and did not score.
"What was deflating was Jaysean on the bench with his ankle on ice. He’s been as good as anybody in the league the last few weeks," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said.
West Virginia, which trailed by as many as 16 points in the second half, pulled within 77-71 on a three-point play by Jonathan Holton with 38 seconds left. Texas put the game away with eight consecutive free throws.
The win is another big result on the NCAA Tournament resume of first-year coach Smart, who still hasn’t lost three straight with the Longhorns. Texas is 5-3 against ranked opponents this season and three of its last five games will come against No. 25 Baylor, Kansas and No. 3 Oklahoma.
Just like its first win over the Mountaineers in January, Texas expertly handled West Virginia’s pressing defense, turning the ball over just seven times. West Virginia attacked Texas ballhandlers early and produced three quick turnovers in the opening minutes that fueled a 12-4 Mountaineers lead.
But Texas cleaned up the sloppy play and quickly fought back before Davis took over the last six minutes of the first half with a slew of 3-pointers. Davis made three as the teams traded seven straight 3-pointers, and his fourth pushed the Longhorns to a 45-36 halftime lead.
"That was huge," Smart said. "It won us the game."
The Longhorns kept up the barrage in the second half. Connor Lammert’s 3-pointer followed by a three-point play by Taylor quickly pushed Texas to a 12-point lead in the opening minutes.
Even when Texas’ scoring slowed down, the Mountaineers couldn’t make the run they needed to rally. After shooting 63 percent in the first half, West Virginia tapered off badly in the second and struggled from the free-throw line.
And Texas kept handling the West Virginia press to perfection. Taylor’s off-balance alley-oop pass to Prince Ibeh for a dunk finished off a three-pass sequence that sliced through the Mountaineers and put the Longhorns up 65-52.
"After the first three or four minutes, our guys did a great job attacking their pressure," Smart said. "This is one of the best games I’ve seen Isaiah play. He steadied us."
West Virginia: The Mountaineers played without starting guard Daxter Miles because of a strained right hamstring. Starting in his place was Teyvon Myers, who came in averaging just 2.2 points and finished with six points, one assist and no steals.
Texas: The Longhorns are keeping watch on their own injured lineup. Smart said this week that center Cam Ridley still hasn’t been cleared to put his full weight on a surgically repaired bone in his right foot, putting his return before the postseason in doubt.
PUTTING IN THE WORK
Smart said Davis sulked after Texas lost to Iowa State on Saturday and he had a poor game. He didn’t baby his freshman.
"He was really down. I told him, ‘You’ve got to get in the gym, man. You’ve got to work on your game … This isn’t high school where it’s easy.’"