"I just couldn't believe it," said WVU head coach John Beilein of the game winning sequence. "That usually happens with me on the other end. It has been a seven-year drought since West Virginia has been able to get a win like this, and it really feels great."
It looked as though it just might not be in the cards in the early going, as Creighton took the early momentum with a 10-0 run. But when Kevin Pittsnogle finally broke West Virginia's scoreless drought with a turnaround jumper with 16:34 on the clock, the Mountaineers began to claw back. A Pittsnogle three just 30 seconds later, followed by a triple from J.D. Collins and a driving layup from Tyrone Sally, pulled the score back even at 10-10.
The game would stay tight for the next few minutes, but with the game tied at 15-15 with 10:30 left on the clock West Virginia went to its spark plug. Frank Young, who played a major role in WVU's Big East tournament run after earning three starts in place of an ill Sally, came on the floor on a mission. Two threes from the sophomore forward helped the Mountaineers go on a 16-4 run, and West Virginia led 31-19 when the Tallahassee native went back to the bench with 4:42 to play in the half.
"I just wanted to try to give us some production off the bench," explained Young. "I just wanted to maybe hit a shot or get a deflection to give us a spark. I thought to myself that it was my time to find a way to help the team."
"He's been coming on stronger and stronger for us over the last few weeks," added WVU head coach John Beilein. "He has really been a key to our run. I am really glad we recruited him and glad that he has had an opportunity to make some plays."
With a 12-point lead and all the momentum in its corner, West Virginia had a great opportunity to put some distance between itself and the Blue Jays, but it was not to be. A Tyler McKinney three began a late Creighton run, and at the half the West Virginia lead was just two, 33-31.
Creighton wasted no time pulling back in front. A Nate Funk three opened the second half scoring, as well as starting an 11-5 stretch that put the No. 10 seed Blue Jays ahead 44-39. West Virginia would trail from that point until the 5:42 mark of the half when Sally broke out of his coma with a game-tying three. Hometown hero Mike Gansey followed Sally's big three with a crowd-pleasing steal and dunk, and the Mountaineers were finally back in front, leading 57-55.
The final minutes were back-and forth, with the lead changing hands three times before two Tyrone Sally free throws tied the game at 61-61. The crowd rose to its feet sensing a classic March Madness finish, and that is exactly what it got. After Creighton called a timeout with 18.5 seconds left in the game and 12 ticks on the shot clock, Funk's three was blocked by West Virginia's Sally, and the senior sprinted the floor on a run-out. Pittsnogle grabbed the ball, and tossed it to Gansey who found Sally on the other end for the exclamation point with 2.4 seconds.
"The shot clock was going down and they kicked it out to Funk," said Sally. "I knew I couldn't let him shoot it, so I tried to get a piece of it. Kevin (Pittsnogle) got the rebound, kicked it to Mike (Gansey) and I was already down the court, so Mike found me. That put it up two. It's a great feeling to win games in the NCAA Tournament with this group of guys and the coaching staff."
Creighton would have one last prayer. After inbounding the ball to half court, the Blue Jays called timeout with 1.7 seconds to set up a play. Funk, who had knocked down key shots all game long, found an open look, but the NBA-range three barely found the rim as WVU celebrated its first NCAA tournament win since Jarrod West's three knocked off Cincinnati in 1998.
Pittsnogle led the Mountaineer scoring attack with 17 points and five rebounds, while Gansey chipped in 13 points and five boards in front of his hometown fans. Sally's late surge put him into double-figures with 12 points to go along with two steals.
West Virginia will move on to face Wake Forest, which topped Chattanooga 70-54 to advance. The Mountaineers and the Demon Deacons will hit the floor on Saturday at 8 p.m.
"They have one of the best point guards in Chris Paul and good guards," said Gansey of the Mountaineers' Saturday opponent. "We'll watch some tape on them and we'll give it 100 percent and see how we do."
"Wake Forest is a great team," added Sally. "There's a reason they're on TV all the time. But to get here, we also had to play great teams. We're going to try to take this as any other game."