By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
On an afternoon to remember, Truck Bryant played a game to forget.
The outcome for the West Virginia University Mountaineers was as they would like it, winning in overtime, 77-74, against a Cincinnati team that has won this very same game over and over again, time after time on the road in the Big East.
They had come to the Coliseum riding an unheard-of streak of seven consecutive Big East road victories, most of them squeezed out at the very end, and nearly did it again, until freshman Gary Browne thrust a dagger into the Bearcats’ heart with a 3-pointer at the close of regulation.
But more amazing than Browne’s 3 was the fact that the Mountaineers were playing most of the game four against five, considering the struggles the normally reliable and vibrant Bryant was having.
If you are squeamish, you might want to turn your head or even leave the room when we report this. Bryant took 16 shots and made two of them. That would be 2 of 16 from the field. Two!
And from 3-point range?
He made as many 3s as did John Flowers, who was sitting in the student section, his body painted pre-game by the students.
That would be zero.
It was a dismal shooting performance, one bad enough for a member of the fourth estate to ask him if, after missing the first two, he knew it would be a bad day.
Bryant looked at him quizzically and responded:
“Two? Tonight, the first seven didn’t go,” he said. “If the first two don’t go, that’s cool. But the first seven don’t go? It’s gonna be a long night. I had looks. I was still trying to hit them. I’m not going to give up. I’ve been making shots, so I’m going to keep shooting them.”
Bryant was coming off a 22-point effort against Marshall, but there were indications that something was amiss, for he made only 7 of 20. And that was a good day compared to what transpired against Cincinnati.
In fact, including the Cincinnati game, Bryant’s last four outings have seen him hit 16 of 61 field goals, 26.2 percent, with six 3s in 30 tries, 20 percent.
Which may be why, following the game, Coach Bob Huggins offered this bit of advice:
“Take the rest of the day off and take tomorrow off. Come shoot some free throws if you want. Don’t get a workout in.”
He then explained why.
“He and K.J. (Kevin Jones) play a lot of minutes and they really need to take a little bit of time off. We’ll get them back in on Monday and let them shoot. It’s hard to make shots when you don’t have legs. K.J. said he was tired yesterday, but apparently he was not tired today.”
Not at all, considering he hit 11 of 15 shots, two of two from 3, for 26 points while hauling in 13 rebounds.
It wasn’t only shooting pains that Bryant was suffering. His defense lagged and he at times looked like a Clemson receiver dropping passes.
At 1:33 left in regulation, Cashmere Wright drove past Bryant to hit a crucial basket.
“It was almost my fault. I almost blew the game!” Bryant said. “Cashmere Wright drove to the basket. I thought I heard a whistle. It must have come from the student section, but I thought it was the ref’s whistle and I let him go for a layup.”
That was shaky enough, but then they came toward the end of regulation, the score tied on a 3-point basket by Browne. Cincinnati had missed a chance to win and Bryant was breaking down the court as Keaton Miles hit him with a pass the likes of which Geno Smith would have been proud.
Bryant had the ball slip through his fingers, and next thing you know there’s a scrum around midcourt, players in a tangle, the clock ticking down to 2.1 seconds and officials trying to figure out what is going on, along with the players, the coaches and a sellout crowd of 14,070.
“I fumbled it, lost it, all I was thinking was getting the ball back because I knew the next jump ball was ours. K.J. almost called a timeout but I said, ‘No, no, we don’t have any left. We have no more,’” Bryant said.
Play was stopped. John Kahill looked, called a jump ball, then there were huddles of officials, huddles between officials and coaches, huddles at the scorer’s table to watch the tape, then at the TV table to watch that video.
The decision? Time had expired and overtime would be played.
West Virginia had survived and would do so in the overtime period, WVU just taking control and hanging on for the victory.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.