Crushing Blow

West Virginia couldn't overcome a brutal first half as they dropped a 66-63 decision to Seton Hall on saturday to close out the regular season.

The Mountaineers, apparently struggling to get back into the flow of competition after a weeklong break, shot just 25% from the field and scored just 17 points in the opening half as they fell behind the moribund Pirates by 11 points at the half. WVU was an abysmal 2-12 on threes in the first 20 minutes, and scored just eight points in the first 12 minutes of the game.

Seton Hall (12-15, 4-12) wasn't much better, scoring just 28 points in the opening period, but put up against WVU's anemic output, that total looked like a 40-point outburst. The Pirates held WVU without a score for more than 5 1/2 minutes midway through the half as they pushed their lead to 14 points, and that margin was more than the Mountaineers, who never led in the game, could overcome.

"They really came out and just got into us like Villanova did," head coach John Beilein said. "We had a couple open threes and driving opportunities that we didn't finish, and then our confidence goes a little bit. They are quicker than us at every position and stronger than us at most positions, and we couldn't get by them."

In the second half, WVU (18-9, 8-8) did improve a bit. Ditching their perimeter attack, West Virginia began driving the ball to the basket more, and were able to cut into the lead. However, West Virginia could never get close than two points, as some unlikely Pirate suspects hit key shots. Freshman Justin Cerasoli, who has made just 16 three pointers all year, hit two from beyond NBA range at crucial junctures, and low scoring Jamar Nutter converted a score late to keep the Pirates in front.

"They made big shots," Beilein observed. "Their young guys, Nutter and Cerasoli, made big ones. Cerasoli's last one was a dagger. It was NBA plus."

WVU put four players in double figures, led by Joe Herber and Tyrone Sally, each with 13. Kevin Pittsnogle had 11 and Mike Gansey 10. The Mountaineers were hampered by a limited D'or Fischer, who hyperextended a knee in the first half after colliding with Patrick Beilein, and was clearly not himself for the remainder of the contest. Fischer spent much of the first half in the locker room before getting back on the floor in the second half.

The distressing fact remains, however, was that Seton Hall didn't do much to win the game on its own. The Pirates certainly didn't play any better than they did in WVU's 96-86 win in Morgantown on February 20. West Virginia simply didn't do the things they do best. The Mountaineers ran their offense sloppily, and didn't handle the ball or attack it aggressively at key moments in the game.

The crushing loss puts West Virginia in a very precarious position in terms of their NCAA hopes, but Beilein pointed out that the Mountaineers still control their own destiny.

"I told them I have been in that situation before, where one game might be pivotal," he explained. "In those cases, it might have been a situation where a loss would have meant we didn't even have an NIT bid. But we still have an option on Wednesday. We have to win some games in the Big East tournament."

West Virginia doesn't know who its foe will be next Wednesday in the Big East tournament, but the Mountaineers do know that they will play in the opening game. WVU will play either Providence or Seton Hall in the 2:00 p.m. contest at the Garden.

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