West Virginia's Juwan Staten celebrates after a 68-62 win over Buffalo in an NCAA college tournament basketball game in the Round of 64 in Columbus, Ohio, Friday, March 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Tony Dejak
March 20, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) 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 all of 3.8 points a game, 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. ''It was really for the other end, for defensive purposes.''

Phillip felt he had to redeem himself for a failed trip down the court just before his bomb from in front of the WVU bench.

''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 wry smile.

The Mountaineers (24-9) advance to Sunday's game against the winner of 13th-seeded Valparaiso (28-5) and No. 4 Maryland (27-6).

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 over 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 time out 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.

''I noticed Tarik's man was running in to help a little bit,'' Staten said. ''So I had to get it to him. There wasn't much time.''

As the shot clock buzzed, Phillip's shot nestled in the net.

''It was a two-point game,'' Hurley said. ''We were going to play it out and needed to get a stop so we could get the ball back with a chance to tie it or go ahead. We closed out as good as you could, but Phillip made a great contested 3-point shot.''

Shannon Evans added 15 points and Moss, coming back from an ankle injury, had 13 points and seven rebounds for the Bulls.

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TIP-INS

Buffalo: The Bulls were confident due to, of all things, two defeats. They lost at No. 1 Kentucky 71-52 on Nov. 16 after leading 38-33 at halftime and also fell 68-56 at No. 6 Wisconsin on Dec. 28 after being up 27-26 at halftime. They came in having won their last eight games.

West Virginia: The Mountaineers, making their 26th NCAA appearance, had not had Staten for the last four games because of a knee injury and also were without fellow senior Gary Browne the last three games with a sprained ankle.

Both played and seemed fine.

Browne was the only Mountaineer with NCAA experience, playing in the big dance in 2012, a 77-54 loss to Gonzaga in WVU's first game.

UP NEXT

Buffalo: Season over.

West Virginia: Plays either Valparaiso or Maryland on Sunday.

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Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/RustyMillerAP

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