Crushing Blow

West Virginia has had some heart-breaking losses over the past two seasons, but this game may have cracked it completely open.

Notre Dame's Colin Falls hit a three-pointer deep from the corner with 15.8 seconds remaining to give the Irish a 65-64 win over the scratching, clawing Mountaineer team in the first round of the big East tournament. Falls' three erased a two-point WVU lead that had been gained one possession before on a driving layup by Tyrone Sally.

WVU's rally was made necessary by a rough opening half, when West Virginia struggled to hit anything/. The Mountaineers were just 11 of 28 from the floor (39.3 percent) and just two of eight from three-point range.

Notre Dame took off the Mountaineers' chill, opening up a 35-24 lead by the half. The Irish wasted little time extending that in the second half, opening up a 53-37 advantage eight minutes into the period on a three-ball by Chris Quinn.

WVU started whittling away at that margin over the next five minutes, chopping it down to 53-46 with 8:54 remaining before another Quinn triple pushed the lead back to 10 a few moments later.

With time growing short, the Mountaineers started to heat up. They didn't have a single turnover in the second half, and suddenly their shots started to fall as well. A couple of Kevin Pittsnogle free throws started a 14-2 WVU run over the next seven minutes. Patrick Beilein 25-footer tied the contest at 60-60 with 2:36 left, and then a minute later, Jo Herber slashed to the bucket for the go-ahead field goal with 1:43 left.

Quinn drained a couple of free throws on the other end to tie the contest again, but Tyrone Sally put the Mountaineers back on top, driving hard to the basket with 45.5 on the clock. Not only did Sally score the field goal, but ND's Jordan Cornette fouled him as well. The West Virginia forward couldn't capitalize, though, missing the free throw, and the WVU lead stood at 64-62.

The Irish worked the ball around the perimeter as the clock ticked down. Finally Quinn drove into the teeth of West Virginia's 1-3-1 zone, drawing a couple of defenders to him. The ND guard quickly kicked the ball to the corner, where freshman Colin Falls was waiting. The Irish rookie calmly drained three-pointer with 15.8 remaining, and suddenly Notre Dame was up 65-64.

WVU hustled the ball up court, calling a time out with 11.3 left. Mountaineer head coach John Beilein called a play that had J.D. Collins with the ball at the top of the key, looking for cutters from either side. The Irish stacked up the right side, denying Sally. Herber was left alone on the left, guarded one-on-one by Torrian Jones. Collins eventually passed to Herber, who tried a move or two on Jones, but the Irish forward didn't bite, and with time running out, Jo was forced to fire from long range. The shot rattled out, and with it went the Mountaineers' upset hopes.

"I don't think the rallies took anything out of us. We had a chance at the end, and we had confidence. Everyone was sure we were going to win the game," Herber said in the somber Mountaineer locker room. "The shot just didn't go down for us."

West Virginia hopes to still have another basketball game in its future. At 15-13, WVU is eligible for the NIT, and most observers believe the Mountaineers will be selected. The NIT bids will be announced Sunday night following the NCAA selection. West Virginia officials don't expect to hear anything on NIT possibilities until 9 or 10 p.m.


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