Normally, Truck Bryant can make free throws blindfolded.
He was shooting 81.6 percent from the free-throw line entering Wednesday night’s game against Louisville.
He made his first six in the game.
Then he began shooting as if he were really blindfolded … missed his seventh, missed his eighth, missed his ninth and his 10th.
Need we say more? Final score: Louisville 55, West Virginia University 54.
“I’m an 80 percent free-throw shooter,” Bryant would say in the gloom that hung heavily as the Mountaineer players stood outside their locker room door. “Eighty-percent! No way I miss my last four.”
He thought for a moment.
“I’m not saying this loss was my fault, but I’ll man up,” he said.
Indeed, as important as those free throws were down the stretch in a one-point game, they certainly no more important than the 18 shots he and his teammates missed from the floor in the second half.
Eighteen, for goodness sake! Oh, there were four baskets, for a second-half shooting percentage of 18.2 percent.
Listen up, because this is difficult to imagine, even without the suspended Casey Mitchell.
West Virginia went from 15:08 of the second half to 1:28 left in the game when Dalton Pepper hit a clutch 3-pointer without making a basket.
“It was a long drought,” Joe Mazzulla would admit.
If it really were a drought, it would be featured on the History Channel, so long was it.
The Oklahoma dust bowl was a fruited plain compared to the Mountaineer offense in that second half.
“Frustrating, very frustrating,” said an unbelieving senior center Cam Thoroughman. “It wasn’t like we were trying to miss.”
It just looked like they were.
“We just didn’t make a shot,” coach Bob Huggins said of the second half. “When you don’t make a shot and you have my two returning starters (Kevin Jones and John Flowers) going five for 21, it gets tighter.”
The shame was that the only guy who wasn’t really wasn’t part of “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight” was the guy who probably should have been shooting, Mazzulla.
Mazzulla literally willed WVU into an 11-point halftime lead, slashing to the basket and even hitting two 3-pointers. Consider the likelihood of that, as he had only one coming into the game in each of the last three years.
Huggins jokingly had told him he would be the secret weapon as they played shorthanded, although it wasn’t really that much of a joke because they had worked on his mechanics with Mitchell not in the mix and with Bryant in a shooting slump.
By halftime Mazzulla had 18 points – his career high.
In the second half, however, he shot the ball just twice, missing both.
“They closed up the gaps,” he said, referring to the areas he was able to squeeze through to get to the basket in the first half. “I wasn’t going to go out there and just shoot.”
“In the second half they jammed it in there and he couldn’t get it to the rim,” Huggins said.
“He had a couple of shots in the second half that just laid on the rim that didn’t go in. But he has to make some shots. No one in this league is going to let you shoot layups the whole game … except maybe us. We’re very charitable.”
The truth was, Louisville did turn up the pressure on its zone and hit the boards as they had not in the first half, taking WVU out of its offense and leaving it gasping for breath.
While Huggins maintained the Mountaineers did not tire – coaches always say that – Mazzulla admitted that they had tired.
“We were lazy with the ball a few times,” Mazzulla said, saying they had talked about not giving up turnovers that led to layups yet did just that a few times.
With all that, in the end, they still could have and maybe should have won. If two of Bryant’s free throws hadn’t rattled in and out it’s a victory, a crucial one for if they had won they would have been tied for second in the Big East but now are seventh.
And then there was the shot that won the game, an impossible, incredible reverse scoop layup by Peyton Siva between two defenders with 4.5 seconds left.
Tough way to take a loss.
E-mail Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Normally, Truck Bryant can make free throws blindfolded.
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