Desert(ed) Offense

WVU struggled on offense against Southern Mississippi's suffocating defense all evening, but managed a late scoring burst to defeat the Golden Eagles for a 66-59 win in the opening round of the Hispanic College Fund Classic.

The Mountaineers came up with three big plays in the last minute of the game to grab the win. Leading by one, Jonathan Hargett hit Chaz Briggs for a bank shot jumper and a 62-59 lead with 25 seconds to play. On the enusing USM possession, Drew Schifino tipped the ball away for a turnover that led to a pair of Jonathan Hargett free throws.

Schifino then made another steal on the inbounds pass and fed Lionel Armstead for a layup and the final seven point margin.

The game was a seesaw affair throughout, with neither team managing more than a six point lead until WVU's final flurry put them ahead by seven at the buzzer. West Virginia was bothered by USM's pressure and contributed to their own uneven play with numerous unforced turnovers.

The game was sloppily played, as evidenced by the combined total of 43 turnovers in the contest. WVU was outrebounded 43-26, and gave up an ugly 18 offensive rebounds to the shorter Golden Eagles.

WVU did shine at the free throw line, canning 16-19 in their best showing of the season.

Lionel Armstead led WVU with 15 points, while Chris Moss chipped in 13.

Hargett, who did not play the first ten minutes of the game as punishment for missing the team bus at the Coliseum on Wednesday, was ragged in the first half with no points, several turnovers and poor shot selection. Hargett rebounded with 13 second half points and much better floor play to help the Mountaineers rally.

WVU was also hampered by foul trouble on their front line. John Oliver got his third foul midway through the first half and spent the rest of the period on the bench. In the second half, both Moss and Oliver picked up their fourth fouls with more than five minutes to go. Oliver eventually fouled out, but Moss hung on to complete the game.

In the opening half, WVU was disorganized on offense and sluggish on defense. Only the scoring of veterans Chris Moss and Lionel Armstead saved the Mountaineers from a huge first half deficit. Moss and Armstead combined for 21 of WVU's 27 first half points, with LA hitting for eight straight at one point to turn an 8-2 deficit into a 10-8 lead.

West Virginia was stymied by the Golden Eagles' swarming defense for most of the opening stanza. Southern Mississippi put pressure on WVU's point guards and forced the ball away from the basket, and as a result WVU was unable to exploit their height advantage inside. USM also played the half at their own pace by milking the shot clock and not forcing the tempo - a strategy that frustrated the freewheeling WVU attack.

With Hargett on the bench for much of the opening period, Jay Hewitt and Lionel Armstead both struggled against the USM pressure. Unforced errors and poor decisions kept the WVU offense from getting untracked and resulted in the 27-27 halftime score.

The first half was played entirely at the pace preferred by USM, as the halftime score indicated. WVU managed only 29% from the field in the opening period, and only USM's 30% rate kept the score tied.

WVU will face New Mexico in the championship game of the tournament at 10:15 on Saturday night.

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