By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
If Kevin Jones could have scored 20 points against Notre Dame on Wednesday night before a disappointing crowd of 9,258 in the Coliseum he would have joined Jerry West and Hot Rod Hundley in the West Virginia record books.
In fact, he and his senior running mate Truck Bryant, who was coming off a 32-point effort against Providence, could not combine for 20 points. The result was a dismal one, Notre Dame 55, West Virginia 51.
Jones managed 14 points and 12 rebounds for his 16th double-double of the season, while Bryant may have set some kind of record going from 32 points to none, although he did have eight assists as both men played all 40 minutes.
That Jones failed to reach 20 points may not be as surprising as it may seem, for Notre Dame has not had a Big East opponent score 20 points against it this entire season.
That Bryant failed to score, and once realizing he wasn’t on stopped shooting entirely, was far more surprising, but Notre Dame was more to blame for that than his own bad marksmanship.
“He has become known as a scorer,” Jones said of Bryant and the way his performance will be viewed as the reason WVU lost. “He just didn’t have a good night scoring, but that does not mean he did contribute.”
Even though Notre Dame really did a solid job of defending him, giving him few chances to shoot, he did have eight assists and only one turnover, but that turnover came as Notre Dame was stringing together 11 straight points at the end of the game – hitting three consecutive 3s, to wipe out a 45-42 lead the Mountaineers had gained when they decided to pound the ball inside.
“Obviously, what happened was that they were 2 for 18 from 3 and they made three in a row,” a disappointed Bob Huggins said when asked to analyze what happened during the Notre Dame run at the end. “They made shots and we didn’t.
“They make a hard three to tie the game, and we don’t get Deniz (Kilicli who had 16 points) the ball on an iso and he was scoring it pretty good. They come down and make another three and now we are down three.
“Then we have a back cut and we miss the layup. I am not blaming Truck. Truck really tried to win.”
And so the game slipped away and WVU fell to 16-9 and 6-6 in the Big East, four of the losses coming in the last five games, while Notre Dame won its fifth straight to go to 16-8 and an impressive 8-3 in the Big East.
The truth is, as difficult as it was for WVU to swallow Notre Dame making the comeback, the Mountaineers lost the game in a most forgettable first half in which they scored all of 16 points while shooting 24.1 percent.
“We just couldn’t shoot from the outside,” Kilicli said. “They let us shoot and we couldn’t make it.”
As much as WVU bad shooting hurt their cause, Notre Dame’s big man Jack Cooley absolutely buried them.
“He dominated us inside,” Huggins said.
Cooley finished with 21 points on seven of nine shooting from the field and seven of 10 from the free throw line while hauling in 12 rebounds, seven of them on the offensive end, most of them turning into baskets.
It does not get any easier for WVU, which has a hot Louisville team in town Saturday for a noon game, that followed by a trip to Pittsburgh and a return engagement with Notre Dame in South Bend.
“I can’t believe we have to play them in two weeks,” said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey. “The way this thing goes, they are really a good team.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.