MORGANTOWN — There are games and then there are GAMES.
West Virginia and Louisville played a GAME on Saturday.
And there are players and then there are PLAYERS.
Da’Sean Butler is a PLAYER.
Consider that Butler hit a 3 to start the game and a basket and two free throws to end it with West Virginia pulling out a pulsating, captivating 77-74 victory over Louisville, and that wasn’t the half of it.
Explaining what transpired at the Coliseum before the non-blinking eye of the ESPN cameras is almost an impossible task, for this was a regular season game played like a playoff game in the middle of the regular season.
“It’s the Big East,” was the way West Virginia Coach Bob Huggins described it. “That’s what happens.”
His coaching opponent, Rick Pitino, was at a loss for words. Seething over the officiating and, perhaps, from the incessant chant of “Kar-en, Sy-pher,” “Kar-en, Sy-pher” that the student body put forth, referring to his rather lurid extramarital affair, Pitino uttered three post-game sentences chastising the officiating then turned his post-game press conference over to assistant Ralph Willard.
Perhaps the best place to begin when discussing the afternoon tea party at the Coliseum is with those students. Asked to clean up their act after a vulgar performance against Ohio State, the students reacted as only they can.
Some — no, make that many — chose to stay away, which only meant that the boycotters missed the most entertaining game of the season. Those who chose to come among the Mountaineer Maniacs did so wearing T-shirts with a front of a tuxedo printed on them and on the back the words, “Keeping it classy since 1863.”
And classy they stayed, right up until Pitino stuck his head out of his locker room before the game and they began their chant.
But, hey, no one’s perfect.
Certainly not the Mountaineers, whose style of play makes it difficult to decide if they are as good as their 17-3 record or some kind of strange mirage, for they can look ridiculously good and ridiculously bad not only in the same game but in the same possession.
Consider this one as another of those games in which WVU displayed its split personality. The Mountaineers ran off to a 13-0 lead but by halftime found themselves in their usual bind, down four as Louisville was shooting an unconscious 61 percent.
It was a pace that you suspected this team that was shooting 43.7 percent for 10th in the league and they stood 13th in shooting 3s at 30 percent. But in the first half they knocked down 7 of 9, a pace that you figured they couldn’t keep up.
But Louisville had had a week off to get fresh legs and Huggins suspected they worked hard on their shooting. Come the second half, they kept hammering away, built the lead to 12 points with 10:53 to go.
Shortly thereafter WVU switched to a 1-3-1 defense and had Louisville completely stymied, scoring no baskets from the outside in just under the last eight minutes of the game and only three during that span.
In the midst of all this, there were so many ancillary stories that you couldn’t count them on the fingers and toes of a six-fingered, six-toed man.
• Huggins drew his first technical of the season when he’d had enough of the officiating with 2 minutes and 24 seconds left in the first half.
• The key play of the game was a ball that squirted out of bounds that hit official Mike Kitts in the head as he ducked out of the way, unable to see the play. Officials stood looking at each other, Jim Haney eventually making a call from far down the court, awarding the ball to West Virginia and shortening Pitino’s post-game press conference by about 15 minutes.
• Wellington Smith continued to amaze with his outside shooting, scoring in double figures for the third straight game with 12 points while hitting 2 of 3 threes, giving him 9 of his last 12 threes.
• Truck Bryant had a box score line that may never be duplicated, 0-for-6 shooting, all of them 3s, but 8-for-8 from the free throw line with five assists and five steals.
• And, just to make sure Pitino was completely devastated, his team had six more field goals than West Virginia, as many rebounds at 33, five blocked shots and seven steals … but was outscored 26-9 from the free throw line while committing 28 fouls.
But in the end, the Mountaineers turned to Butler, who has been rescuing them all season.
“That’s just Da’Sean,” said Devin Ebanks, who had his own moments down the stretch. “He’s our leader. He comes up with big shots.”
This time his final four points gave him 27 points for the game, including WVU’s final four after the 1-3-1 and Kevin Jones and Devin Ebanks helped to draw them back into contention.
It marked his 93rd double figure scoring game, moving him past Chris Brooks for the school record.
“I just wish he wouldn’t wait until the end,” Huggins said.
E-mail Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MORGANTOWN — There are games and then there are GAMES.
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