Hustle Play

It was one important play among many, but one that typified West Virginia's magical march to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament.

As the clock wound down in Thursday evening's tense battle with Texas Tech, West Virginia held a two-point lead over the Red Raiders with a minute to go. J.D. Collins passed the ball to Tyrone Sally on the left wing, and Sally immediately tried to return the ball, only Collins wasn't there. Sally's pass bounced into the backcourt, and Texas Tech's Jarrius Jackson was the closest player to it. As Jackson scooped the ball up and headed for what appeared to be the tying basket, Mountaineer fans saw their hopes of an Elite Eight berth dimming with every step.

J.D kind of faked me out on that play," Sally said of the missed communication. "We had been running 'quickie' all game, and I was expecting him to quickie back to me. I threw the ball expecting him to be there, and I threw it away."

Sally wasn't blaming Collins, either while the play was happening or after the game as he described it. Instead, he made a play that may have saved the game for the Mountaineers.

Before that sequence is detailed, it should be noted that the Tyrone Sally of a couple years ago might not have made the play. A crucial mistake in a critical situation would probably have been followed by head-hanging as the opponent capitalized on the miscue. And it also should be known that Sally wouldn't have been the only one to act in such a manner.

However, these are the Mountaineers of 2005. They aren't perfect by any stretch of the imagination. They still suffer through extended scoring droughts at times, and still make mistakes in running head coach John Beilein's "LeMoyne offense". However, when those mistakes happen, this group doesn't let it affect the next play. And in this instance, Sally, who has learned and grown so much duirng his time at West Virginia, showed what senior leadership is all about.

"The coaches get on us about not running back downcourt, so I just got back as fast as I could," Sally said. "I saw him (Jackson) cut back toward me, and I got a piece of the ball [when he shot it]."

That brief description belies the importance of Sally's shot block, his fifteenth, and undoubtedly most important, of the season. The Chesterfield, Va., native timed his leap perfectly at the end of his sprint and swatted the shot attempt out of the air, preventing an almost sure game-tying hoop. Thus emboldened, the Mountaineers withstood four more Texas Tech shot attempts in the next 27 seconds before Patrick Beilein regained possession of the ball, setting up Kevin Pittsnogle's game-clinching free throws with with 17.6 seconds to play.

None of that would have been possibile, however, is Sally had hung his head after committing the turnover. Instead of compounding one mistake with another, however, he turned the negative into a positive with one of the biggest plays of his career.

"It tunred out to be a big play for us, because the ended up not scoring on that possession, Sally said. "That's what this team has been about all year -- just finding ways to scrap out a win."

As Sally described his play, teammate D'or Fischer shared in the moment by yelling, "Tyrone Sally! Huge play! Huge play!" from his locker spot next door as WVU celebrated its first trip to the Elite Eight since 1959. It was a fitting moment, in that this Mountaineer squad, that has won so many games with teamwork and selfless play, would have one teammate supporting another, even long after the game was over.

BlueGoldNews Top Stories