Duking It Out

West Virginia was downright abysmal in the first half, but Jonnie West was Johnny on the spot. The reserve guard scored eight straight points in a key second half stretch to give the Mountaineers their first lead, as the visitors overcame an 11-point halftime deficit for a 64-61 victory over Duquesne at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh on Sunday night.

West, a senior, sandwiched a pair of 3-pointers around a baseline jumper to lead what was ultimately a game-changing 10-1 run that turned a 50-44 Dukes lead into a 54-51 WVU edge.

But T.J. McConnell, who had been a thorn in the Mountaineers' side all night, hit a 3-pointer not long after to tie the game at 54, and a close battle ensued for the last six minutes.

West hit a pair of free throws to give West Virginia a 60-59 lead with about three minutes to play. John Flowers then took his turn as the hero, blocking a pair of Dukes shots near the goal on the hosts' next possession.

After WVU head coach Bob Huggins called timeout with 2:23 to play, West passed the ball from the top of the key to Cam Thoroughman on the wing. Throughman found point guard Truck Bryant wide open in one corner, and the junior hit a huge 3-pointer to make it 63-59.

The contest was still in doubt though, as McConnell hit another jumper and Thoroughman airballed the front end of a 1-and-1 foul shooting situation. But Flowers blocked yet another Duquesne shot on the other end, and the Dukes' B.J. Monteiro missed two free throws with nine seconds left.

Flowers converted the front end of his 1-and-1 with 7.5 seconds on the clock to make it 64-61. But he missed the second foul shot, giving the Dukes one last shot at overtime.

McConnell, who may have had a bit more time on the clock than he thought, fired an off-balance 3-pointer that bounced off the rim, allowing the Mountaineers to escape with their eighth straight win in the series.

"You can't underestimate the difference when he makes the front end of that 1-and-1," Huggins said of Flowers. "Now [the lead] is three. If it's two, it changes what we're going to defensively. It totally changes what we're going to do defensively. That's a huge free throw that he makes."

Flowers and West, a senior who wasn't even on the WVU roster at the start of practice in October, were the unlikely heroes. West scored all 10 of his points in the second half to lead a rally from what was once a 12-point Duquesne advantage.

"Thank God Jonnie came in and made some shots for us," Huggins told the Mountaineer Sports Network afterwards. "We're trying to get Jon better defensively so we can keep him on the floor more. But he gets 17 minutes and gives us 10 points, and he made some big ones for us."

This game recap presented by The Book Exchange
West Virginia (7-2) needed every last one of those shots, as the first half was largely dominated by the Dukes, who were playing their second game of the season at the new Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.

Even though the arena is typically home to the NHL's Penguins, head coach Ron Everhart's squad looked plenty comfortable in the new digs. It was WVU, which started with Dalton Pepper and Cam Thoroughman in the lineup (in favor of Casey Mitchell and either Deniz Kilicli or Dan Jennings, respectively) that looked out of sorts early.

Duquesne (4-4) used a quick 8-0 run to take control. It was little surprise that the Dukes, which came into Sunday night's game leading the nation in 3-point field goals made per game, used a pair of trifectas (from Bill Clark and Monteiro), to key that early surge and take a 19-9 lead.

It was a bit more surprising that the Mountaineers never made a serious run of their own for the rest of the half. Everhart and company led by at least six points for the rest of the first period and took a 34-23 advantage into the locker room at halftime.

West Virginia struggled to take care of the ball all half, committing 10 turnovers and making the McConnell look like an All-American.

McConnell had 10 points, four steals, four rebounds and two assists by halftime. Many of the freshman's points came off those steals, as McConnell picked the pocket of WVU guards and went to the other end for easy lay-ins.

"We turned the ball over and were very careless with the ball," said Huggins, as frank as ever. "Sixteen turnovers is [always] outrageous, but particularly when you've been playing three guards the way we have, it's outrageous."

Uncontested baskets were a big reason the Dukes outshot their opposition early, hitting 44 percent of their field goal attempts in the opening half against only 33 percent accuracy for the Mountaineers. Duquesne hit four of eight 3-pointers, while the visitors only made one of 10 attempts from long range.

But West Virginia's defense started to put the clamps in the final 20 minutes, limiting the Dukes to 34.8 percent shooting in the second half and only one 3-pointer. The hosts shot 40.0 percent overall to Huggins' squad's 45.3 percent.

West helped the Mountaineers recover from their own first half shooting woes, perhaps brought on by a rim that was found to be out of line at halftime (it was adjusted at the intermission, delaying the start of the second half). WVU shot 57.7 percent (15-of-26) from the field in the final period.

McConnell, who ended up with 18 points, didn't score in the first 12:12 of the second half and Clark, who had 16 points, was sitting on the bench as the Mountaineers made their run after picking up his fourth foul early in the half. By the time he returned, West Virginia led.

Kevin Jones quietly led the way for the visitors, just missing out on a double-double with 15 points and nine rebounds. Bryant was only 4-of-14 from the field, but ended up with 12 points and five assists. West and Flowers each had 10 points (Flowers added seven rebounds, five blocks and four assists).

Mountaineer players will have the next few days off to focus on final exams before taking on Cleveland State at the WVU Coliseum on Saturday afternoon. Tip-off is set for 2:00 p.m.


BlueGoldNews Top Stories