The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

March 6, 2011

WVU rides miracle finish to win

Mountaineers score eight in final 18 seconds

MORGANTOWN — For the first 39 minutes and 42 seconds of West Virginia’s final regular season game of the season at the Coliseum, the Mountaineers and Louisville fought an emotional battle of attrition, WVU pounding the boards but killing themselves with turnovers and their normal round of dismal shooting and the Cardinals somehow hanging in via their 3-point shooting so that it appeared they were about to steal one on the road.

While Kevin Jones had come out and played as if he had changed into his uniform in a phone booth, not the locker room, scoring 25 points with 16 rebounds; and John Flowers had a dozen points and rebounds to go with six of the most intimidating blocks you could imagine, guards Truck Bryant and Casey Mitchell had struggled mightily throughout, so that with 18 seconds left the Cardinals had a five-point advantage.

Certainly it looked over, but the truth is that the meek do inherit the earth and as meekly as Bryant and Mitchell had played all game, their turn came and they delivered the killer blows in a miraculous, 72-70 comeback victory for WVU.

The win clinched a sixth-place tie in the Big East and gives them a first-round bye, playing their opening game on Wednesday night at 9:30 p.m. in Madison Square Garden.

Thanks to the last-second heroics of Mitchell and Bryant, WVU finishes the regular season with 20 victories and 10 losses and brings an 11-7 conference record into the tournament. They are 5-5 against ranked teams with this victory over No. 11 Louisville and head into postseason with a three-game winning streak, the last two over Connecticut and the Cardinals.

They did it against what Huggins called “the best schedule in the history of the school,” ranked No. 2 in the nation entering Saturday.

But all of that pales in comparison with those final 18 seconds when Bryant and Jones made amends for what had been combined 4 for 16, 1 for 8 from 3-point range with two assists and four turnovers. It was wearing on both of them.

“I felt like I had to hit a shot,” Mitchell said after his final Mountaineer home game, played in front of crowd of 15,032, and his mother, Norma, up from Savannah, Ga. “I was saying to myself on the bench, ‘I can’t go out like this. If I get a chance to go back in, I’ve got to do something.’”

With his 3-point shooting ability, coach Bob Huggins could not afford to let him sit on the bench once he fell five behind.

“We had to get the ball to Casey,” Huggins said. “When we ran it special for him, he got a pretty good look.”

That basket, on an assist from Bryant, cut the lead to two but a free throw by Louisville widened the gap to three points with 17 seconds left.

The free throw came after Joe Mazzulla committed his fifth foul and left the game.

“I just left it in God’s hands. There was nothing I could do. I couldn’t make a shot or make a pass. I just sat back and let God take care of the rest. Once he missed the first free throw I knew we were going to win the game,” Mazzulla said.

WVU came down the court again after the made free throw and against got the ball from Bryant to Mitchell, who smoothly as a Woolworth’s milk shake hit yet another 3 to tie the score.

“I knew we had to hit a 3 quick because of the time,” Mitchell said. “I had great confidence. I felt I had to hit a shot.”

Eight seconds were left when Louisville got the ball to Preston Knowles, who had been riddling the Mountaineers down the stretch. This time he threw up a desperation shot that ricocheted off the basket to the left and came right to Bryant.

Somehow Knowles covered about 40 feet and ran right into Bryant, Knowles hitting him in his eye with his shoulder.

The whistle sounded. There were 0.6 seconds left.

“It’s a controversial call, a close game like that. We were lucky the referee had enough guts to make the call,” Flowers said.

“A foul is a foul,” said WVU coach Bob Huggins.

No one knows what Louisville coach Rick Pitino had to say.

He skipped the post-game press conference.

Bryant was sure he was fouled and hard enough that it had to be called.

“He shoots the 3 and I’m there and I see him leave to the rim so I got to go too,” said Bryant, who was defending Knowles. “I grabbed it and he hit me. That was a dumb foul.”

It certainly was, for it sent WVU’s second-best free throw shooter to the line, Bryant hitting at 81.6 percent and Mitchell 86.1 percent.

Truck made the first.

All he had to do now was miss the second and the last six-tenths of a second would tick off the clock.

“I told him to miss the second one,” Huggins said.

“I tried to miss it,” said Bryant.

It went in, which allowed Louisville one long last shot that came up far short, as did Louisville in the latest of a series of tense games between the two teams, going all the way back to John Beilein’s Sweet 16 NCAA run that ended with an overtime loss to Louisville after blowing a 20-point lead.

“It seems like every time we play Rick Pitino it is like this, or something like this,” Huggins said. “They have banked a couple in to beat us. They told me when I got into the business that it all evens out, but I think he still he owes me a couple.”

NOTES: Kevin Jones became the first Mountaineer to score 25 points with at least 15 rebounds since Chris Moss in a 2001 double-overtime, 107-101 win at Villanova. But that game went two overtimes. The last Mountaineer to do it in regulation was Gordon Malone when he scored 28 with 15 rebounds on Jan. 29, 1997 against Boston College … Jones has three straight double-doubles, scoring 52 points with 37 rebounds in those three games. He has eight for the year, tied for second in the Big East … He has also played 38, 39 and 39 minutes in the last three games …The game was Bob Huggins’ 100th victory as WVU coach, the fastest to that mark.

E-mail Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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