Left Turn To Albuquerque

It took 10 minutes longer than it probably should have, but that just made the celebration more special. After trailing by 13 points at halftime and not holding a single second-half lead until the 1:04 mark of the second half, West Virginia battled back to knock off No. 2 seed Wake Forest 111-105 in double overtime and earn a ticket to Albuquerque for the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament.

"I am just thrilled to win this game," said WVU head coach John Beilein, "not only because it sends us to the Sweet 16, but to beat this team, with one of the greatest coaches and a great university in Wake Forest. This is the story of our season. We don't quit. We are going to enjoy this moment."

The early action was back and forth as the Demon Deacons asserted their dominance in the paint early on, and West Virginia fought to stay around. The Mountaineers had little answer for Eric Williams and Wake's inside game, and the Deacons' first 10 points of the game all came in the lane. WVU, though, hung around, and with 14:30 left in the half, a Tyrone Sally putback tied the game at 10.

"It was up and down," explained J.D. Collins of the game's opening minutes. "Coach (Beilein) just told us to stay focused and play our game, and that is what we tried to do."

It was all Wake Forest over the next six minutes. The Deacons continually broke down West Virginia's man-to-man defensive attack and found easy dunks and layins under the hoop. With 8:22 a Trent Strickland putback capped a 15-2 Wake Forest run, and the Demon Deacons led 25-12.

West Virginia would fight back to cut the lead to 10 when Sally nailed a three to put the score at 27-17, but that was as close as the Mountaineers would get. A Beilein technical with 1:47 captured the frustration that the WVU faithful were feeling, and Wake outscored the Mountaineers 13-10 down the stretch to enter the locker rooms with a 40-27 lead.

The news looked bad for the Mountaineers. Wake Forest was shooting 63 percent from the field, they had created an uncharacteristic nine West Virginia turnovers, they led the rebounding battle 14-11 and they had scored 28 points in the paint compared to the Mountaineers' 12. It looked as the clock on WVU's Cinderella run may be approaching midnight, but Beilein's troops still had a little fight left in them.

West Virginia came out of the blocks strong, as it finally started driving toward the hoop. Mike Gansey opened the scoring with an old fashioned three-point play, and J.D. Collins found an uncontested drive to put the lead back to single digits at 40-32. The difference would hover between seven and 10, and at the first media timeout WVU had cut four points off the Wake Forest lead, and the scoreboard led 49-40 with 14:39 showing on the clock.

Knowing he had to find a way to slow down the Demon Deacons' inside attack, Beilein went to senior center D'or Fisher, who had spent most of this recent Mountaineer run sitting on the bench. Fisher immediately asserted himself with a dunk and two blocks and suddenly Wake Forest was beginning to hesitate before taking the ball inside.

The hesitation on the Demon Deacons' side helped cut into the WVU lead, and when the horn blew for the second media timeout of the second half, the deficit was just five, 54-49. The large contingent of Mountaineer faithful started to make some noise, and the entire Mountaineer Nation began to believe.

"He's a big-time defensive player," said Wake head coach Skip Prosser of West Virginia's senior center. "Give Coach Beilein some credit for that (move). He also made some big-time offensive plays. Give the young man credit. Big-time players play well in big-time games, and he certainly did that today."

There was still work to be done, though, and Wake Forest made the comeback tough. Two ugly misses kept West Virginia from chipping the gap any further, but with 8:39 two Sally free throws pulled the Mountaineers within three at 56-53.

As had been the case all game long, it was time for another run. Downey started the Wake scoring with a long three that would become a theme of the evening, and the Deacons diced West Virginia's 1-3-1 zone to take extend a one possession game to a three possession game with a 63-55 lead.

But Joe Herber brought the crowd back with a long three, and after Williams was signaled for a walk and Sally and Collins both knocked down a pair at the line, West Virginia trailed by just two, 68-66 when the teams hit the benches for the final media break.

West Virginia would take its first lead since early in the first half minutes later when Tyrone Sally found an easy dunk on a backdoor cut to put the Mountaineers up 73-72. Just 56.7 seconds remained on the Wolstein Center clock when Wake signaled for a timeout, and the dream that once looked out of reach was now less than a minute away.

"At the end of the game (WVU) had the momentum," said Wake Forest guard Downey. "It makes it difficult because it give them confidence and whatever they do is right. We had a tough time with them in the second half."

The possibility of an upset to feel more and more realistic when Collins strokes through a pair at the charity stripe to put WVU in front 75-72 with just 37.7 ticks. But a coast-to-coast drive from Chirs Paul led to an easy Williams dunk, putting the Demon Deacons within one before Herber was fouled on the other end to go to the line for two with 27.9 seconds on the clock.

Herber knocked down 1-of-2 from the stripe, putting the Mountaineers up two, but leaving the door open. Paul's pass bounced of Jammaal Levy's hands, however, giving West Virginia another possession with a chance to put the game in the bag. Gansey could not put it away, connecting on just 1-of-2, and this time the Deacons from the ACC took full advantage. Dawney's three tied the game at 77-77, and that is the way regulation would end.

West Virginia's fans saluted their Mountaineers with a roar, but the questions of whether or not the Blue & Gold let one slip away began to fill the arena.

The Mountaineers would have another chance to end that speculation in the overtime period, but down 93-90 with 22.6 seconds left, Wake's Downey struck again. A tough look at the basket from the top of the key found the bottom of the net, tying the game with 16.5 seconds left. West Virginia had a chance to win it when the lane suddenly opened for Herber, but the junior's shot was thrown into the corner by Eric Williams, and the two teams headed into a second extra period.

West Virginia again jumped out in front with an early layup and a long three from Gansey, who then knocked down two free throws for his hometown fans to put his team up 100-94, and the six point lead would prove to be enough.

After Fisher fouled out of the game, Pittsnogle found the floor for the first time since the 14:39 mark of the second half, and he immediately made an impact. A three from the left corner put WVU ahead 103-96 with two and a half minutes left to play, and the Mountaineers were starting to sense a miracle.

"When I got it, I made the most of the minutes and I tried to score and do what I do best," explained Pittsnogle. "We just wanted to try to win this one for our seniors, and none of us cared who got the credit."

Wake would not call it quits, but West Virginia made its foul shots down the stretch, and the Demon Deacons would not pull any closer than four. Mock chants of "ACC, ACC" began to ring down from the Mountaineer section as the clock ticked under a minute and the celebration was on. Patrick Beilein ended up with the ball as time expired, and after tossing the roundball high into the air, the celebration began.

"I just hope we have a city left when we go back to school," said Collins. "It might be burnt down. (Our fans) have supported us throughout the season, even when we were down and lost a couple of games. You could hear them tonight. They were as loud as ever. When the game got close they helped us out, and they were screaming at the top of their lungs. We were just glad we could pull it out for them.

Hometown hero Mike Gansey led the WVU attack with 29 points and seven rebounds, 19 of those coming in the two overtime periods.

"It was just a dream come true," said the St. Bonaventure transfer. "With Tyrone fouling out, I put the pressure on myself to play more aggressive. In regulation I missed a free throw that probably could have sealed the deal. I was a little upset after that, but God was looking down on me today, and he gave me all the power. My teammates helped me out, and this is an unbelievable feeling.

Sally, refusing to let his WVU career come to an end, hit 7-of-8 shots from the field and stroked through 5-of-5 at the line to finish with 21 points and four assists.

Fisher came off the bench to chip in 15, and his defensive effort was the major key for the Mountaineer turnaround.

"He has not had that many minutes and he had not embraced this role," admitted Beilein. "We knew he was very bright and that he was a heck of a player, and he did a great job for us."

West Virginia will now move on to take on Texas Tech, who defeated No. 3 seed Gonzaga to advance into the Sweet 16.

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