The Mountaineers built a dozen point lead via its uptempo, pressing style, smothering the Cavaliers and operating to near perfection in the half court offense. But leading 35-23 with 2:23 left in the opening period, West Virginia suddenly stopped guarding the ball as effectively, and that allowed UVA to get into its half court sets easier. Suddenly, the 12-point advantage was down to just six at the break, and from there the 10th-ranked Cavaliers continued to build momentum, dominating the second half in a 70-54 win.
The positives are the tale of what might have been. Consider that No. 14 West Virginia played its best first half of the season in leading by the 12 points before settling for a 36-30 edge at the break The Mountaineers guarded extremely well, and forced Virginia to play more of their style in at least a scrambling, if not outright running style of game. WVU also managed the half court offense with exceptional efficiency, shooting 46.7 percent while recording eight assists on 14 field goals. The Mountaineers got eight points, three rebounds and three assists from Jonathan Holton over the first 20 minutes, and Jaysean Paige came off the bench to provide an outside threat and score seven. What’s more, WVU fouled just 11 times, with no player having more than two. The pace and style of play forced Virginia into 12 fouls and 11 turnovers at the break, already four more than their season average for a complete game.
It even appeared at one point as though West Virginia would blow the game open, despite the disciplined, methodical experience of the Cavaliers. But lack of ability and effort in guarding the ball late let the 12-point edge — the last of which was the 35-23 with little more than a couple minutes remaining — whittle to half that as UVA closed by scoring seven of the last eight points. The segued into the second half, and UVA came out under far better control. That combined with some sporadic, and sophomoric, mental play by WVU allowed Virginia to make a 21-5 run spanning both halves to take a 44-40 lead with 12 minutes left.
It signaled the beginning of the end, and the lead would balloon to as many as 13 at 63-50 with four minutes left. Much of that was with Jevon Carter on the bench, the WVU sophomore having been permanently placed on the pine by head coach Bob Huggins after trying an ill-advised behind-the-back pass that became a turnover and led to a run-out three-pointer by the Cavaliers that gave them their first lead since the opening minutes of the game. It might have been considered more of a key play that it was, as UVA really started to transform the game to its liking with two minutes left in the first half. But it’s worth noting that the miscue came when Carter had secured a steal, then gave it back when he was in position to at least draw a foul around the rim. Instead of potentially building on a 40-39 lead, West Virginia turned the ball over. UVA had a bead on exactly how to capitalize, and fed London Perrantes, who drilled one of his trio of three-pointers to give the Cavs the lead for good. Perrantes, shut out in the first half, continued to dominate WVU in the half court, picking apart man and zone sets to score 13 points as one of four Virginia players to reach double figures.
Anthony Gill hit nine of 11 from the field for a game-high 20 points with 12 rebounds. Carter never saw the floor again, which was somewhat more palatable because of his one for nine shooting from the field. Miles missed seven of his eight shots, including five threes, and Devin Williams managed just 10 points and three rebounds before fouling out late.
In all, the Mountaineers (7-1) were outscored 47-19 over the final 22 minutes and were outshot 63 percent to 40 percent while committing 18 turnovers to Virginia’s 19. WVU forced just seven UVA turnovers in the second half, and the Cavs actually had a 19-15 edge in points off the turnovers. What to make of all of it, from the hot start to the ice cold finish? First, West Virginia can affect the way other teams play, and can force anybody into an uptempo pace. But it also must add to that with far better defensive execution in the half court, and by getting some better shot selection from its backcourt. Carter and Paige cannot combine for to miss 15 of 17 while also making the occasional mystifying decision in transition.
Tony Bennett’s team is as good as it comes in the half court sets, and it plays with patience and a steely resolve that thus far a less experienced West Virginia team has had trouble duplicating. But the totality of the contest was still encouraging in spots, including West Virginia’s chances to at least make it a more competitive contest in the latter stages. But missed free throws, turnovers by Elijah Macon along the baseline and an inability to get any consistent stops in the defensive half court led to the increasing gap. This was an excellent test for the Mountaineers, and one from which they can garner much. It’s a loss, but it’s certainly not a bad loss, and it’s one which is likely to look decent even as the season progresses, and one which was quite timely heading into the home stretch of the non conference.