Sans Staten, Browne Anchors WVU In Win

There were a myriad of problems early for West Virginia against Boston College. But the Mountaineers collectively solved them, with an anchor-leg push from Gary Browne to seal the 70-66 victory and advance to the Puerto Rico Tip-Off finals.

One sensed WVU was in trouble in the initial stages against a game Boston College team using the drive and kick and solid shooting to forge an early double digit lead and carry much of that momentum into halftime. The Eagles, somewhat surprising winners over New Mexico in the tournament’s first round, forced seven turnovers in the first nine minutes, and built a 17-8 edge. West Virginia went without a field goal for more than five minutes in the midst of the half, and turned the ball over five times during the stretch during the 11-0 run. By the time WVU snapped out of the funk, Boston College led 20-8 and was threatening an early blowout.

That, however, never materialized. Finally, the Mountaineers played to their frontcourt strength and began dumping the ball inside and attacking the bucket, which enabled more free throw opportunities and ultimately stemmed the Eagles’ surge and jumpstarted the 12-point comeback that was complete when Dax Miles tied the game with at 48-48 on a three-pointer with 9:47 left. West Virginia had outscored BC 27-16 in the second half to that point, and continued to use excellent full court pressure, the cumulative effect of which began to be felt with 14-plus minutes to play.

Boston College led by 42-32 at that point, but would commit two turnovers and miss five shots, three from beyond the arc, as WVU put together an 18-6 WVU run over the next five minutes. The rally ultimately led to the first Mountaineer lead of the game on Jevon Carter’s jumper with 9:27 left for a 50-48 score. Nathan Adrian followed that with a three, and West Virginia began to grasp the game by riding Juwan Staten for multiple jumpers and some nifty slices toward the hoop.

All seemed in hand until Staten picked up his fourth and fifth fouls within 20 seconds of each other just prior to the under-4:00 timeout. Suddenly, West Virginia’s leader, the Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year, was perma-benched in a two-point contest. Devin Williams was playing well, but unable to create his own shot inside the 10 foot area sans some guard help. Elijah Macon and Jonathan Holton were largely in the same quagmire, none watching to take extended jumpers and now left wanting as to which guard could actually draw enough attention to get them the ball in an iso or at least advantageous position on the blocks.

Worse, the other guards were no longer as open for makeable jumpers, Staten not being in the game to draw as much help. Carter and Dax Miles would eventually score 23 of WVU’s 49 second half points, but not hit a single jumpshot after Staten fouled out.

Enter Browne, playing collegiately in front of his extended family for the first time. The senior more than replaced Staten and, in the final 3:30, made a series of excellent awareness plays on both ends. First, Browne was part of a combo trap with Carter that forced a backcourt turnover when Adrian slapped a BC pass away. Browne regained the loose ball and fed, via backwards bounce pass, a cutting Carter toward the rim for a 63-58 lead.

Browne then slapped away the inbounds pass on the ensuing possession, forcing Boston College to inbound again, before taking a charge when the Eagles finally got to the offensive end. He followed that with arguably the biggest assist of the game, setting up Williams on the inside with a drive and one-handed dish that allowed the forward to seal his man outside and hit a left-handed lay-in with a foul for a 67-64 lead with less than 20 seconds to play. Williams hit the resulting free throw, giving West Virginia the all-important four-point lead.

Browne used a pump fake and go on the play, slicing down the middle of the spread Boston College defense. It was a look West Virginia utilized often in the last five minutes, giving Browne and the other guards some room to hit jumpers or challenge the rim, with Williams and Holton available as interior threats or for board work. And finally, when BC made one last push to get within three in the final 11 seconds, Browne had the ball stolen, then went and stole it back with four seconds left to negate any final shot opportunity.

“I guess just to make it exciting,” Huggins said on the MSN by IMG postgame radio show. “We didn’t have the bounce that we normally do, and you need to have that bounce to play the way we do. But we made shots. (The guards) made shots, but you’re gonna get shots because Wanny draws so much attention. We have to work on continuing to get it out of his hands at the right time to the right people.”

And while the time wasn’t right, the person certainly was, Browne finishing with the glue-guy stat line of one point, three steals, two assists and multiple huge plays in 13 minutes of work. It was just the latest of validations for the only remaining player in West Virginia’s eight-person 2011 class. Browne is on pace to do what Huggins calls the hardest thing in the college game: Stay for four seasons and compete and commit for and to the program daily. Browne isn’t likely to garner any honors for this tournament, but West Virginia is a far better team with him on the roster. It was, after all, ahead by three when Staten departed, and won the game by four.

“These guys have some substance and they want to win,” Huggins said, epitomizing Browne’s approach for four seasons now. “They aren’t selfish. They aren’t running and hunting shots. They want to do the right thing. We are gonna just keep getting better and better I hope.”

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