It had all the makings of a big road game for West Virginia, who started the first half strong, running with the Orange in uncommon fashion. I suppose that should have raised the Seton Hall warning - West Virginia normally has a weak start and comes alive in the second half when they're headed to victory.
Syracuse jumped to a quick 5-0 lead on the back of Leaf Newman. The Mountaineers were kept off the board until the 15:45 mark, when Sherell Sowho nailed a jumper to make the score 6-2. That keyed a 9-1 Mountaineer run that saw a normally sluggish-starting Kate Bulger nail her 68th three-pointer of the season. The two teams traded the lead back-and-forth for the remainder of the half, the largest lead being an 18-14 Mountaineer advantage.
The Orange were only able to stay alive in the first half because of Leaf Newman. She poured in 13 points on 5-8 shooting, being virtually unstoppable by the Mountaineer defense. She helped to bring Syracuse's shooting percentage up to 35% for the half, while the Mountaineers shot a decent 37%. A big key for the Mountaineers was keeping turnovers at a minimum, only five for the half to Syracuse's four.
Sadly, West Virginia couldn't keep it up. Something happened in the fifteen minutes of halftime that drastically changed the course of the game, sending the Orange soaring high while the Mountaineers hit a big low.
It appeared early on that the second half would continue on as the first did. Syracuse jumped to a quick 36-32 lead on baskets by Chineze Nwagbo, but West Virginia responded on a field goal by Brandi Batch and Bulger's 70th three-pointer to pull the game within one at 38-37 with 14:10 left.
But, Syracuse then came out with guns a-blazin' while the Mountaineer muskets ran out of powder. The Orangewomen went on a 20-2 run over the next seven minutes that pretty much put the game away at 58-39, taking advantage of poor Mountaineer shooting, rebounding, and turnovers. It didn't get any better as Syracuse pulled out to the 28-point win. The Mountaineers were outscored in the half 42-12.
The only "bright spots" for West Virginia after 14:10 would be that Bulger hit her 71st three, pulling her scoring total to her Big East-leading average of 16 per game, and Jess Fisher getting some quality playing time, scoring a basket. Other than that, well, the statistics tell the story...
West Virginia turned the ball over 17 times in the half for a game total of 22, as compared to Syracuse's total of seven. The Mountaineers shot 31% (18-57) for the game, compared to 45% (31-73) for the Orange. Just assuming that each turnover resulted in a shot for Syracuse, you can see the big difference in the game, especially when you know some of those shots were made.
Somehow, West Virginia crashed the boards better, 42-41. But, the other Mountaineer biggie, free throws, was virtually absent. The Mountaineers "only" shot six times from the line, making five, whereas Syracuse shot nine, making six.
Kate Bulger led the Mountaineers in scoring, shooting 6-18 for her average 16 points and four rebounds. She was followed by Sherell Sowho, who shot 4-14 for 12 points. Mary Grace Carson turned in a nice performance with six points and five rebounds. Brandi Batch and Eartha White both struggled on offense with four points each, but they managed to pull down eight and five boards, respectively. Yolanda Paige and Jess Fisher rounded out the scoring with two each.
Syracuse was led, as mentioned, by a big performance from Leaf Newman. She shot 8-15 for 21 points while dishing six assists. Jazmine Wright scored 14 on 6-10 shooting. Jaime James scored 13 points, six rebounds, and six steals. Chineze Nwagbo had 11 points and a big 14 rebounds. Shannon Perry scored six, Julie McBride five, and Rochelle Coleman and Sara Wegrzynowicz had two each.
West Virginia falls to 14-12, 6-8 in conference play, while Syracuse advanced to 15-11, 8-7, not a bad position to be in going into the Big East tournament next weekend. The Mountaineers have one more regular season game, this one a huge Tuesday night home contest against the #1-ranked and unbeaten University of Connecticut Huskies. The Mountaineers will have to be at their best just to stay in the game Tuesday against the Huskies, who humiliated Rutgers 80-42 today.
It should be an interesting game, to say the least, but I think the Mountaineers, with their performances against other top-25 teams this year, can make the game on respectable one. The conclusion may be foregone to many, but I, for one, will have the fingers and toes crossed for a Tuesday miracle in Morgantown.
Stay tuned, and if you're in the area, get to the game and cheer these women on. It's been a TREMENDOUS turnaround for this team, and they haven't gotten the credit they deserve from a public still shocked by the men's woes, which is just a shame. The year isn't over yet, and if there's a game they'll need the support for, it's this one.