Casey Mitchell's career-high 31 points, including a game-winning three-pointer on West Virginia's final possession, secured Player of the Game honors in a win over Vanderbilt.
The junior made six of 12 three-pointers, the only ones made by the Mountaineers in the game, and continually led charge after charge against the rallying Commodores. Anytime Vanderbilt challenged West Virginia for the lead, Mitchell made a key shot that denied the underdogs. He made two threes in a key 9-0 run about midway through the first half after Vanderbilt tied the game at 54-54. After Vanderbilt scored, Mitchell further extended the edge with another three, this for a 66-55 lead with five minutes left. And he even led West Virginia to the advantage it would never relinquish with a personal 7-0 scoring run that turned a 6-1 Vandy edge into an 8-6 Mountaineer lead. Mitchell made a jumper, a pair of free throws and his first three; Vanderbilt never led again.
The shooting display was made all the more impressive because Mitchell had a counterpart nearly matching him in John Jenkins. The junior made five of 11 threes, three in a late stretch that helped tie the game and aid the build-up to Mitchell's final three. Jenkins finished with 27 points, four behind Mitchell, and never got a chance at a game-winning shot as the WVU defense clamped down when it absolutely needed to most.
Truck Bryant, the BlueGoldNews.com Player of the Game in the opening round win over Davidson, gets noted again – this time no so much for scoring as ball distribution and in-game decision making. The point guard finished with six assists against just one turnover and added four rebounds and a seven-of-eight effort from the line that largely carried the Mountaineers in a game in which the foul line percentage (72 percent) was much improved though not great. It was Bryant who drew the top two defenders against a 2-3 zone, then kicked to Mitchell (who also went seven-of-eight from the line) for the game-winning three. Bryant dominated Vanderbilt point guard Brad Tinsley, repeatedly turning over the Commodore starter until head coach Kevin Stallings switched Tinsley to the two-spot and brought in backup Kyle Fuller for a better match of Bryant's quickness and athleticism.
Bob Huggins. This could be nearly every game, but the coach deserves some praise for having plays ready to go for both man and zone possibilities, and not having to see what Vanderbilt would run on the last set, then calling a timeout to allow the Commodores more time or to switch what they were doing. WVU's coaching staff had a solid handle, it seems, on the last play. Additional acknowledgement for not fouling on the last possession of the game and bringing the potential for a loss into the equation. West Virginia "took a shot" with its defense, as Huggins said, and the move worked as it kept the ball away from Jenkins and forced backup Rod Odom into an off-balance shot that missed.
It should be noted, though, that Huggins was less than pleased with his team's play and execution over the final 20 minutes. The Mountaineers blew a 14-point lead and several chances to seal the game. Most worrisome, Vanderbilt dominated the glass in the latter half and WVU committed several unintelligent fouls that helped Vandy.
"They shoot 24 percent in the second half and they gain eight points on us because we did what we said not to do: we fouled them," Huggins said. "And it was stupid fouls."
Kevin Jones. The forward had 12 points and 11 rebounds for a rare double-double that one feels will become quite common this season. He crashed the glass well, battled down low and did some scrap, clean-up scoring as needed. Jones committed some of those dumb fouls, but his first didn't come until well into the second half and, unlike Vanderbilt's key interior players, he was on the floor for the vast majority of the game (38 minutes) because of mostly smart play.
Finally – West Virginia's fans. The Mountaineer contingent was loud, well-represented and, as far as anyone knows, didn't have one among its numbers ejected from the arena. The same can't be written about the Commodore supporters, one of whom was removed from the arena in the midst of the game after being kicked out by an official. One more tourney challenge awaits, and it's likely to be the biggest thus far if North Carolina wins the semifinal against Minnesota. The Tar Heels travel well, have major numbers at most basketball events and are quite passionate. It will be interesting to see which side has a better showing. Of course, a lot of that comes down to the teams giving their fans something about which to cheer.