The Times West Virginian

March 4, 2012

Jones, Bryant carry WVU past Bulls

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — Having been born with all the standard equipment, one laments that they had not added just one extra at the baby factory before being sent out into the world, especially on a day like Saturday.

Would it not be wonderful if, in the aftermath of West Virginia’s tough, gritty, courageous 50-44 road victory over South Florida in as important a game as they have played this season, one could see into the soul of this Mountaineer team.

Leave the X-ray vision for Superman. We’re not asking to see through steel walls, but only through the flesh and bone that makes up a human being, see exactly what it is that makes Truck Bryant and Kevin Jones tick.

Their final regular-season performances as Mountaineers were certainly magnificent, not for the numbers they produced as they have had far superior games both scoring and rebounding, but for the circumstances in which they were produced.

This was a slugfest, and to win it Bryant and Jones had to be basketball versions of Joe Louis and Joe Frazier. That had to take a punch and give two back.

What they did was simply clutch.

In fact, make that CLUTCH with capital letters.

The situation was that WVU was on the road, playing in a city that had not seen a basketball game of such magnitude in 20 years, a South Florida team playing for a double-bye in the Big East Tournament and guaranteed trip to the NCAA Tournament. The school had not been there in 20 years.

They were a big, athletic, defensive team that played hard, played tough, and that came out in the second half and hit WVU with a punch reminiscent of both Louis’ and Frazier’s powerful left hooks, sending them reeling.

But they bounced back up off the canvas as a team and turned to their two seniors, Bryant and Jones, and they reached deep down into that part of the soul that we never can see and found a way to will WVU to a victory.

First, understand, that they did this on a day when they really weren’t on their best game.

That, of course, was why WVU found itself trailing after the South Florida rally when Bryant found himself with the basketball and just one second left on the shot clock. That he would not make the 3-point shot he was going to attempt was guaranteed, for this player who had scored 56 points in the previous two games had not made a basket to this point in the game.

He somehow found a way to make that not matter, putting up a pump fake that drew a foul as he did attempt his 3-point shot. If he wasn’t hitting from the floor, he was from the free throw line, making all three shots to draw WVU within one.

“There have been times he’s been knocked down and not gotten that call,” Coach Bob Huggins noted on the post-game radio show.

If you fast forward to a point later in the game, 7:30 left, South Florida still led, 39-36, when Bryant found a small gap in the defense, drove the lane and made a difficult shot to draw the Mountaineers to within one point.

That was his first basket of the game, having gone 32:30 without scoring.

Now he had the feel and he again reached into that hidden area where great athletic moments are born and drove on the next possession, this time flipping up a left-handed prayer while being hammered to the ground, the ball going through the hoop as would the free throw he took to put WVU back in front, 41-39.

About five minutes later South Florida seemed on the verge of taking the lead, slick guard Anthony Collins having negotiated his way into the lane and made a nifty feed to 6-11 Augustus Gilchrest, who went up to make a slam that would bring the roof off the arena.

He never got there as Jones made the best defensive play of his career, blocking the shot before it ever got up there.

“K.J. made a huge block ... huge block,” said Huggins, almost as stunned at that as he was that his team won the game while shooting only 28 percent.

That Jones parlayed the block into a score at the other end only magnified the effect of the play.

The heroics were contagious, for freshman Gary Browne, who was everywhere in the second half, was in the right place at the right time when he took a charge in the closing seconds, knocking the wind out of USF’s hopes at stealing the game at the wire.

NOTES: In his effort to win both the Big East scoring and rebounding crowns, Kevin Jones finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds at South Florida, leaving him with a 20.0 scoring average and 11.2 rebounding average on the final day of the season. Only two others, St. John’s Walter Berry and Notre Dame’s Troy Murphy, have won both ... Jones is a leading candidate for Player of the Year honors and for the Big East sportsmanship award ... Truck Bryant made 12 of 12 free throws in the final regular season game of his WVU career, just the eighth time in school history a player has been perfect with at least 12 free throws. It hadn’t happened in 12 years ... WVU has its lowest shooting percentage (28.3) in a win since 1957 and fewest baskets in a win (15) since 1951 ... The last eight times WVU and South Florida have played no team has reached 80 points. In this game they combined for only 94 ... Kevin Jones has started 102 consecutive games ... Bob Huggins has 120 victories at WVU and 61 of them are on the road ... USF freshman G. Anthony Collins, brother of former WVU point guard J.D. Collins, led the Bulls with 11 points and had four assists but WVU forced him into four turnovers. He did hit a 3, just his fourth of the season.

Email Bob Hertzel at Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.