Mountaineers survive Canisius

A mostly lackadaisical, routine pasting of an inferior opponent nearly got away from the Mountaineers tonight. After holding a 20+ point lead for most of the game, West Virginia University survived a late charge from the Canisius College Golden Griffiins to manage an 80-68 victory.

"We were up 27, 28 points," said reliable guard Johannes Herber, "and then they turned the pressure up. We got sloppy with the ball, and they did a good job of staying in the game."

His compatriot Patrick Beilein agreed. "We did not execute. They got hot and we did not make plays. But a win is a win. We'll take it whether it's 25 points or 1 point."

With 1:06 left in the game, Canisius drew within 7 points, at 72-65. WVU's Mike Gansey made 2 free throws to bump the score to 74-65, but Canisius scored again, with 42 seconds on the clock, to make it 74-67 before the Mountaineers were able to pull away enough to seal the deal.

"That last four minutes seemed like an eternity," sighed Coach John Beilein. "Any time we turn the ball over 9 times in a half and still come out on top, it will be a great win. We didn't do that in the first half, but Canisius is a very quick defensive team, and they played great defense in the last 10 minutes. Canisius is better than 1-8, but we lost our game, mentally and offensively, and they wouldn't quit. We got sloppy mentally and it made us sloppy physically."

But perhaps it was more than Mountaineer sloppiness at work. Canisius head coach Mike MacDonald served as John Beilein's assistant during the WVU coach's term as the Griffins' leader. "They took advantage of knowing our plays," Herber stated. Kevin Pittsnogle went a step further. "They were scrappy and reached inside a lot. It was easier for them to get leverage on us because they are smaller than we are."

"Canisius is better than their 1-8 record," asserted Coach Beilein. "They are going to win some games this year." The Canisius coach couldn't hide his disappointment. "I'm happy we didn't quit," MacDonald said. "I'm happy we kept battling. Hopefully, we will build on this and take it to the next game, but it's still a loss. We played well the first 12 minutes of the first half and the last 12 minutes of the second half, the way we need to play. But 24 minutes won't get it done."

A surprisingly large crowd of 9,744 stayed in the game with the Mountaineers. The event was sold out, so even though the students are still on winter break and a number of ticket holders have already decamped for Atlanta and the Sugar Bowl, the Coliseum was rocking and rolling with an enthusiastic audience who did their best to encourage the rusty cagers. The Mountaineer Faithful were particularly vociferous when first Mike Gansey and then Patrick Beilein took solid hits that propelled them across the floor and drew egregious fouls.

The Mountaineers were not without some solid individual efforts tonight. Kevin Pittsnogle scored a career-best 34 points, putting on a shooting clinic in the first half. He retired to the locker room at intermission with 25 points. "He's extremely talented," Canisius Coach MacDonald pointed out. "Our goal was to make him score 2s, not 3s. He is such a very good shooter and so much bigger than our guys. He just shoots over people. I can't believe how quick his release is. And they use him perfectly."

Mike Gansey added 15 points, including several crucial free throws in the late minutes of the game, and Frank Young scored 13. Young made 3 of 4 3-point shots, 2 of which seemed to launch from Woodburn Hall or thereabouts. "Frank is stepping up his game," John Beilein said. "He gave us 25 solid minutes tonight. He's in much better shape than he was, and we can count on him for 20 to 25 minutes a game."

Despite sending up a couple of ugly airballs, Patrick Beilein provided 9 helpful points, including 2 shots from beyond the arc. Only 2 more 3-pointers will bring him into a tie for the all-time WVU record. His dad said that, "We don't talk about it and we don't recognize records until the season's over. He' s shooting to win games, not get records." That's true, but the impending accomplishment seems to weigh heavy on the younger Beilein's shoulders. Hopefully he will reach it during the South Florida contest in 5 days and be relieved of the burden of great expectations.

RIFLE REPORTS

Heather Pittsnogle, the wife of WVU center Kevin, is heavily pregnant with their first child. Her due date is February 1, smack in the middle of the Big East season. "She's going great, doing well," said the proud husband, "but the doctors say she could go at any time now." A sonogram earlier this week revealed the the baby already weighs between 7 and 8 pounds, with 5 more weeks to go.

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Playing Canisius brought back a lot of happy memories for Patrick Beilein, whose basketball dreams were first nurtured on the Buffalo NY campus when his dad coached there. "Growing up, I wanted to play for them," he smiled. "I know Coach MacDonald well and I'm glad I got to [play against him.]"

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New Big East banners have been hung at the Coliseum, bringing a totally different look to the decor. The sleek, almost art deco-ish pennants are very attractive.

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Although he didn't figure much in the statistics, Darris Nichols had a solid game. He looks stronger with each passing contest.


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