Usually, when analyzing the anatomy of a game, one or two numbers stand out. It might be a high number in the turnover column, or a low number in shooting percentage, but often its an indicator of the outcome. This one, however, had several stats which leaped off the scorecard, and not all of them were in favor of the Mountaineers.
First was WVU's awesome rebounding advantage. West Virginia had as many offensive rebounds (25) as the Cardinals had overall, and that helped WVU offset a 33.9% shooting mark for the game. West Virginia piled up a 22-4 advantage in the second chance points department, which canceled out the shooting advantage the Cards enjoyed. Even though the visitors shot 50% from the field, they weren't able to overcome the second and third chances West Virginia got on many trips. WVU totaled 49 rebounds to Louisville's 25, and held the Cardinals to just seven on the offensive end.
Normally, such a huge advantage would indicate a solid win, but it was negated by WVU's awful marksmanship from the 3-point line. WVU was just 4-24 from beyond the arc, and stood at a hideous 2-22 until Casey Mitchell made two in the final 18 seconds. As I noted coming down the stretch, if WVU had just shot badly from long range, it would have been ahead by eight or ten points instead of trailing by five in the late stages. Mitchell's resuscitation made that statistic little-noticed in the post game analysis, but it was a key factor that kept Louisville in front down the stretch until the final second of the game. And strangely enough, WVU has won its last four games in which it has shot 16.7% or worse from downtown.
Bouncing things back in the other direction, though, was WVU's free throw shooting. Discounting a 7-7 performance from the line against Marquette, the Mountaineers were a season-best 26-29 from the free throw line. Joe Mazzulla was the only WVU player to miss, and he was still a respectable 5-8 from the line. Everyone else, including Cam Thoroughman (60% on the season) and Kevin Jones (58%) were on target all afternoon. Things were going so well for WVU at the stripe that even when it tried to miss, it went in. Truck Bryant, after making the first of two free throws with .6 seconds remaining, was instructed to miss the second to get the clock started. Bryant aimed a line drive at the front of the rim, but it bounced up, rattled around and went in.
Compare those numbers to Louisville's. The Cards shot a solid 22-32, but had seven misses in the first half as WVU built its lead, and also had a critical miss with 17 seconds to go. Peyton Siva's final miss of the evening gave Mitchell the chance to tie the score with his second three, and was, among the Cards' ten misses, easily the biggest of the day.
Finally, there were blocked shots. WVU's total of six wasn't an eye-popping number, but the fact that they all came from John Flowers was at least a bit unusual. It's no surprise when Flowers rejects shots, as he's far and away the team leader with 73 swats, but the manner in which he got them had a great impact on the game. Coming from off the ball, Flowers prevented several Louisville shots off penetration from getting close to the rim, and his presence clearly had an impact on Louisville's inside game. The Cardinals ran a high ball screen almost exclusively in the second half, but Cardinal guards that made it into the lane had to be keeping an eye out for Flowers. Again, compare that to Louisville, which managed just one block despite fielding Gorgui Dieng, Terrence Jennings and Stephan Van Treese. While WVU wasn't dominating in the paint, it got most of its shots away without harassment, and managed 16 points in the lane against the Cardinals' 2-3 match-up zone.
There were even more statistical oddities. Kevin Jones had recorded a double-double before the final media timeout of the first half. West Virginia had seven turnovers in the first 7:43 of the game. The Mountaineers won despite shooting 33.9% for the game, and while clanking all 12 of its 3-point attempts in the first half. Joe Mazzulla had a box score consisting mostly of fives: five made free throws, five rebound, five fouls, five points, five assists and five steals in 35 minutes of action.
Trying to make sense of all these numbers is, in the end, a bit like trying to comprehend everything that happened in the final half-minute of the game. It's probably easier, in the long run, to just enjoy this game and its result as one of the classic Mountaineer comebacks.