COLUMBUS, Ohio — The kid on the court for his defense made the shot of the year for West Virginia.
Tarik Phillip hit a 3-pointer with 28 seconds left while the shot clock was winding down, adding the clinching points as the fifth-seeded Mountaineers held off No. 12 Buffalo 68-62 on Friday in their NCAA tournament opener.
Coach Bob Huggins said the only reason Phillip, a sophomore guard averaging 3.8 points, was on the court was because of his length as a defender and his ability to rebound.
“It wasn’t for him to take the shot,” said Huggins, in his 33rd year as a head coach and his 21st NCAA tournament.
Phillip felt he had to redeem himself for a failed trip downcourt just before his basket.
“The previous possession I got my shot blocked, so I was just thinking to get it up,” he said. “When (Juwan Staten) found me, I just thought, ‘Get it up on the rim.’ ”
Huggins had fully intended to pull Phillip for an offensive replacement before the pivotal shot — but in the hectic final minutes, he forgot.
“My absentmindedness probably won the game,” he said with a smile.
The Mountaineers (24-9) advance to Sunday against No. 4 seed Maryland (28-6).
It was the NCAA tournament debut for Buffalo, coached by former Duke star Bobby Hurley. He wore the championship ring he got for the Blue Devils’ consecutive titles in 1991-92.
Devin Williams, who led the Mountaineers with 17 points and nine rebounds, hit two free throws with 2:10 left to give his team the lead for good.
Mid-American Conference tournament champion Buffalo (23-10) did not score in the final 2:42 against the physical Mountaineers’ gritty defense.
The Bulls pulled within a point on a three-point play by Xavier Ford, who scored 11 of his 16 points in the second half, then moments later tied it at 62 on his 3-pointer from the left wing.
After Williams hit his two free throws for the lead, Buffalo failed to tie it with 1:39 remaining when shot inside by MAC player of the year Justin Moss went in and out. WVU then missed a 3 but Williams was able to call a timeout during a wild scrum under the hoop.
With the shot clock down to the last tick or two, Staten, who had 15 points and seven assists, drove and flipped a pass to his left, and Phillip delivered as the shot clock buzzed.