West Virginia (14-11, 6-8) was a ghastly 6-24 for the field in the second, half, including 3-14 from beyond the arc as they watched the almos-as-poor-shooting Hokies rally for the win. Time after time, WVU's offense worked a player free for a good shot, and time after time the Mountaineers saw their efforts bounce awry.
"We just can't make a shot," head coach John Beilein agonized afterward. "I'm proud of the way our guys executed and got open shots, but we just can't make 'em. We can't make a layup, we can't make a dunk, we can't make a wide open three. And until we do, I can't yell at them. I just have to tell them to keep shooting it."
WVU certainly tried that, but no one distinguished themselves on the day. Tyrone Sally and Patrick Beilein each reached the 50% mark, But Sally only attempted four shots, and Beilein made just two of six from three-point range and also missed three free throws. Joe Herber was a miserable 1-8, which included to wide open threes late in the game that could have rallied the Mountaineers, and D'or Fischer, Jarmon Durisseau-Collins and Tyler Relph combined for just two makes in nine attempts.
Put it all together, and the Mountaineers shot just 32.6% for the game, and made only 25% of their three pointers. Add in eight missed free throws, and the only wonder is that WVU didn't lose by more.
Virginia Tech (12-13, 5-9) was led by Bryant Matthews, who led all scorers with 28 points, more than half of the Tech total. "He certainly won the game for them today," Beilein noted.
Matthews also got to the free throw line 15 times (making 12), while somehow avoiding punishment for a blatant intentional elbow that decked Tyler Relph and an actual punch that whistled by Patrick Beilein's head. Classless Virginia Tech fans rained catcalls and boos on Relph as he lay on the floor after the elbow connected with his nose. Relph missed a large portion on the second half as he held an icepack to his bloodied proboscis on the Mountaineer bench.
"I will have to look at the tape and see if there were flops or intentional elbows or anything like that," an obviously frustrated Beilein said afterward. "I'm confused a little bit by things that happened out there. But, I have to learn to be a better coach and figure out how the games are called."
Both Beilein and Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg were incensed at the many questionable calls that occured on both ends of the court. The officiating crew, led by Tim Higgins, let the game get out of control early, tightened up, then loosened up again, often stifling both teams as they tried to get into some sort of rhythm.
West Virginia led by as many as ten points in the opening half, while Tech led only once by the score of 5-4 at the break. WVU took a 24-20 lead into the locker room, but were never able to build more than a six point lead in the opening minutes of the second half.
Tech slowly rallied and took a 31-30 lead on a Matthews jumper with 12:37 to go, but Kevin Pittsnogle answered with a three to return the lead to the Mountaineers, However, Matthews made a pair of free throws to tie the game at 33, and the Mountaineers never led again.
WVU's second half futility was again marked by long stretches without a field goal. West Virginia had staggering periods of 7:21 and 10:28 without field goals in the second half. Four of West Virginia's six second half field goals came in the final 1:36 of the game.
West Virgina still needs one more win to fully secure an NIT bid, and has but three more chances to do so. Up next is Syracuse, which, had West Virginia won on Saturday, figured to be a reasonable target for an upset. However, if West Virginia's shooting doesn't improve, and quickly, the only upset will be that found with the Mountaineer players and coaches.