Truck Bryant made the headline plays, including a 3-point shot with 3.3 seconds left to play, as West Virginia saved its season with an 87-84 overtime victory at Providence, but the subheads had to be reserved for Deniz Kilicli and a pair of freshman guards.
Bryant led the Mountaineers back from a 15-point, first-half deficit that threatened to turn a three-game losing streak into a four-game streak and an NCAA Tournament season into an NIT season. He scored 32 points, 21 in the second half, tied the game in regulation by driving the length of the floor to hit a layup and then won it in overtime with the 3.
After each of those shots the Mountaineers, now 16-8 and 6-5 in the Big East, had to hold their collective breath as Vince Council, who had killed them all day, missed desperation 3s at the buzzer for the Friars.
“We didn’t play very well and were still able to win,” Coach Bob Huggins admitted following the game. “That was probably the worst game ‘KJ’ has had since Mississippi State. But somehow we were able to figure out a way to win.”
“KJ,” of course, is Kevin Jones, who has been so good that his ninth consecutive 20-point game could correctly be labeled his worst in three months.
The truth is that it was Kilicli who took up the slack left by Jones, especially in an area where Jones normally is dominant, on the offensive boards.
“Deniz came out in the second half and was the Deniz we’ve wanted him to be,” Huggins said. “Deniz winds up with four offensive rebounds. For a while I didn’t think he’d get that in the season. I think they were all in the second half.”
With Kilicli turning on the offense and grabbing the boards and Bryant scoring 21 second-half points, the 15-point lead that the Friars had built melted away like an ice cube in Miami Beach.
His offense included 22 points, which represented a career high, and with Bryant and KJ gave WVU three scorers with more than 20 points.
But if there were two plays down the stretch that turned this game, you had to look toward the two freshman guards, Jabarie Hinds and Gary Browne.
First, there was a moment when WVU was trailing 70-67 and inbounding the ball, only to have Providence steal it and go off and running one of the many fast breaks, only this one was botched and the Mountaineers got the ball back and took off on a break of their own, only to have a pass go sailing toward out of bounds.
Hinds, who had suffered through a dismal day, went flying after it, blindly throwing it back in, somehow to a Mountaineer with the play ending up with a tip-in basket to cut the Providence lead to a point.
Then, with just 2:10 left and the Friars clinging to a 72-70 lead, Bryant missed a 3 and the ball went spinning wildly out of control on the ground, Gary Browne risking life and limb diving for it, gathering it in and somehow getting it to Kilicli, who muscled his way to the basket and scored to tie the game 72-72.
The Mountaineers, unable to stop Council or the athletic Gerard Coleman, who had a career-high 30 himself, wound up in overtime, trying to get the ball inside to Kilicli and Jones.
In the end, though, it came down to one shot, Bryant with the ball, the seconds ticking away, Kilicli shouting at him.
“He kept saying, ‘Shoot it, shoot it, shoot it,’” Bryant said. “Well, you know me. I was going to shoot it anyway. He didn’t have to tell me.”
He shot it, he made it and the Mountaineers had something to look forward to as they prepare for their next game, a home battle with the Cinderella Notre Dame team at the Coliseum on Wednesday.
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.