Oportunity Lost

West Virginia kicked away a golden opportunity for a monumental upset in a 72-64 loss at Syracuse on Saturday.

On a cold, snowy day in upstate New York, Syracuse was ripe for the picking. The Orange obviously didn't take WVU very seriously, but still managed to run out to an early double digit lead, which they preserved for much of the game before wrapping up an eight point win.

As has been the case during the past few games, the Mountaineers were again hideous from the field in the early going. WVU (11-5, 1-4) missed its first five shots from the field and fell behind by ten points midway through the first half. What offensive spark existed came from hyper forward Mike Gansey, who shook off the effects of knee and thigh injuries to again leap high for second chance points and rebounds. Still, West Virginia managed just 22 first half points and trailed by 12 at the break.

WVU played better in the scond half, but their efforts to get back into the game were thwarted by horrendous play in transition and the shooting of Syracuse guard Gerry McNamara. The Cuse sharpshooter scored all 18 of his points after the break, which offset West Virginia's 42 second half points - something of an explosion for the formerly cold shooting Mountaineers.

Despite McNamara's outbreak, WVU could have been in the game, had they not kicked away numerous opportunities on fast breaks. West Virginia had a three-on-one, a four-on-two, a one-on-none and two two-on-one chances, and scored exactly zero points. Unforced turnovers, unaggressive play and unsure ballhandling led to the meltdown, which proved to the be the difference in the contest.

WVU cut the lead to seven in the second half, and had a good chance to make it five, but a ten foot shot by Tyrone Sally barely drew iron, and Syracuse responded with a three pointer to put the game away. The Mountaineers did not choose to foul until less than a minute remained in the game.

Head coach John Beilein was upbeat after the loss, saying he saw definite signs of improvement.

"I think I can count on one hand the amount of times you got better during a loss," head coach Beilein said. "But you could see it today. We had a ton of easy shots, and we missed them."

West Virginia was also hampered by an inability to convert scoring chances close to the basket. On several occasions, D'or Fischer and Kevin Pittsnogle got the ball down low in prime scoring position, but either passed the ball back outside or tossed up soft attempts when an aggressive move and strong sot try were called for.

"We haven't seen a 2-3 zone a great deal, but there were several times we got it deep inside, and we missed some chippies," Beilein admitted. "I was telling D'or and Kevin, 'Go up and dunk everything.' But we were going up there soft."

That may well prove to be the epitaph for this team. On a day when a strong effort would have resulted in a season-turning win, WVU came up soft during crunch time.

Patrick Beilein led WVU with 17 points, hitting 5-11 from three point range. Tyrone Sally managed 11, despite shooting a woeful 3-14 from the field. Mike Gansey and D'or Ficher also tallied 11 points each.

* WVU's travel plans were a mess on both ends of the trip. The Mountaineers flight arrived late, which precluded a shootaround the night before the game. Due to a big storm system moving in, the return flight home was scrubbed before the game, meaning WVU will spend the night in Syracuse.

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