Kevin Kinder\

West Virginia Won Its Fifth Straight, Beating Richmond 67-59 to Reach the Title Game of the Last Vegas Invitational

Devin Williams matched a career-high with 23 points and recorded his fifth straight double-double while Jaysean Paige hit a big three late as West Virginia held off Richmond 67-59 in the semifinals of the Las Vegas Invitational on Thursday.

Whatever the question, Williams was the answer. The junior dominated the interior, grabbing 12 rebounds and scoring on a series of putbacks and spinning lay-ins as he was the prime factor in holding off a relentless Richmond team. After trailing by as many as 12, the Spiders were within a bucket twice over the final six minutes. Williams dashed the immediate comeback hopes the first time, getting a putback dunk off Jevon Carter’s miss. Then, Paige canned a huge three-pointer from the left wing to turn a two-point game into a 59-54 lead with 2:25 to play.

Williams took it from there, scoring WVU’s next four points while grabbing two defensive and one offensive rebound in the process as the Mountaineers managed a 63-56 with 33 seconds to play to hold on from there. It was an incredibly impressive individual performance, the lone exception being his technical for complaining about a missed foul call on yet another of his putbacks.

“Devin was terrific,” Huggins said. “He was absolutely terrific. I told him he can’t get a technical because I can’t have him in foul trouble.”

Which he was, playing just eight minutes in the first half. Williams played 17 in the second half, and became the first WVU player since Rod Thorn in 1961 to record five consecutive double-doubles. The forward made 9-of-11 from the floor and 5-of-8 from the line while finishing with a team-best plus-nine mark in his 25 minutes of play.

Richmond was as good as anticipated, and continually challenged the Mountaineers with a series of rallies. Although the Spiders (3-2) never led, they were never behind by more than 12 at any point and eight in the second half, including the final score. But Richmond, which entered shooting a sizzling 40.4 from three-point range, missed 13 of its 15 shots from behind the arc and never truly found the range with multiple point blank misses as well.

“We got pretty good pressure on them,” said Huggins, who gained his 770th career win. “We couldn’t stand there and let them shoot it, because they shoot it pretty good.”

West Virginia hit just two of its 13 threes, and struggled at times to run offense in the half court and defend well in its zone defense. The Mountaineers also battled foul trouble throughout, with Paige, Daxter Miles and Jonathan Holton finishing with four fouls. Nathan Adrian fouled out with 55 seconds left.

“We didn’t make any shots, and for a while there we got where we didn’t guard very well,” Huggins said on the MSN by IMG postgame radio show. “We have to do a better job and we have to start making shots. Everybody is going to start standing in the lane if we don’t make shots.”

Carter added 13 points for West Virginia (5-0), and was the only other Mountaineer in double figures just one game after the team had seven such players in a blowout of Bethune-Cookman. Terry Allen scored 20 points, and Shawndre Jones added 15 for Richmond, which gave WVU a much-needed test after the Mountaineers won their first four games by an average of 38 points. West Virginia now faces the winner of Cal and San Diego State. Tip time is 10:30 p.m. eastern.

“We live to fight another day,” Huggins said. “Truthfully, (the WVU players) knew they were going to win until now.”

The game appeared to be another blowout early. The Mountaineers scored the first seven points of the game – and five in the first 51 seconds – and had amassed a 12-point lead within the first seven minutes. WVU seemed primed for another easy victory until a combination of quick whistles and West Virginia’s style had Richmond in the bonus by the 12:03 mark. The Spiders then fought back from the line to get within 18-15 midway through the half, and had reached the double bonus with more than eight minutes left.

The teams jostled the difference between three and eight points the remainder of the opening half before Davis hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to get Richmond within 35-31 at the break.

The game stayed tight from there, with Richmond getting within 42-40 with 13 minutes left before WVU had its first true spurt off energy and scoring in the second half. First, the Mountaineers fed Williams inside, who hit a lay-in and was fouled. Williams badly missed the free throw short, but the rebound kicked out to Paige, and WVU eventually found a slicing Holton for a key dunk.

Holton hit another slam seconds later off a turnover – one of a season-low 14 forced by West Virginia – and the jam put the Spiders down 48-40 with 12 minutes left. Richmond would get as close as two three times over the final dozen minutes, but the Mountaineers had an answer for each in winning its first five games for just the second time since the Final Four season, a span of six years. 

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