Down Goes Nova

The West Virginia University men's basketball team took aim at stealing the spotlight back from the Sugar Bowl Champion football team Sunday at Villanova, and it did just that.

In a stunning payback from last year's regular season game, in which the Wildcats gave West Virginia its first loss after starting the season at 10-0, the Mountaineers overcame a 15-point second-half deficit and a barrage of 3-pointers Wildcats to secure their eighth consecutive victory by the score of 91-87. Villanova was one of only four undefeated teams remaining in the country.

West Virginia, playing at the scene of a 38-point defeat one year ago, trailed for most of the game as Villanova torched the nets for 10 first-half 3-pointers. But the Mountaineers were equally as efficient on the offensive end, and their poise and experience kept the score within striking distance.

John Beilein's senior-laden outfit found itself down nine points at intermission, and after a pair of Mike Nardi 3-pointers, trailed by 15 early after the break. From there, the team chipped away, using a combination of sharp shooting, key defensive plays and free throw shooting to erase the deficit with four minutes to play.

The Mountaineers were down 76-71 with 4:33 left to play when Kevin Pittsnogle buried his fourth and final three-pointer to pull within two. Joe Herber, who missed key free throws in a one-point loss to No. 2 Texas earlier in the season, drained two free throws with 4:01 remaining to tie the score.

WVU wasn't finished, as Frank Young hit a jumper in the lane and Mike Gansey added another field goal that capped a 9-0 run and gave the Mountaineers a four-point cushion with under three minutes to go.

The Mountaineers would need every one of them, as Villanova played catch-up with a vengeance. At one point, the Wildcats hit three on back-to-back trips down the floor to cut the margin to 88-87. But West Virginia's free-throw shooting, and an untimely turnover by the usually-reliable Nardi, handed the Mountaineers a win over what was likely to be the new No. two team in the country.

"They're a very good basketball team and we were fortunate enough to go on the road and get a 'W'," Beilein said. "We're fortunate that the ball bounced our way in the final minutes."

The Mountaineers hung tough despite getting few bounces in the early-going. Villanova hit 10-of-13 3-pointers in the first half, including 8-of-8 on threes from Nardi and the sharp-shooting Allan Ray. The Wildcats also benefitted from West Virginia's early foul trouble, but that also began to swing WVU's way in the second-half as Villanova's attempts to penetrate resulted in multiple charging calls.

For Coach Beilein, he just wanted to score to remain close until Villanova cooled off.

He told his team, "They're not going to keep shooting like this. You don't shoot like this in a gym by yourself."

Indeed, Villanova did cool off, and that's when the cool, calm and collected Mountaineers carved up the Wildcats and outscored them by 19 points in the final 19 minutes. Despite foul trouble, Villanova's impressive shooting display, and what appeared to be too much Wildcat athletism to overcome, Beilein and the Mountaineers stuck to the formula that led this team to unprecedented heights this March. When things looked grim, the head coach relied on his quartet of seniors to secure a win over the highest-ranked road opponent in school history.

"When you have a good horse, you're going to ride it," he explained simply.

Beilein can ride this horse for the rest of the season. It's sure not to buck him.

The Mountaineers saw three players top the twenty point mark, as Joe Herber (23), Kevin Pittsnogle (22), and Mike Gansey (21) scored 66 of WVU's 91 points. Frank Young added 11, including the go-ahead jumper with less than four minutes to play.

WVU, having secured another huge RPI-influencing win, returns home to the Coliseum on Wednesday to begin a three-game homestand against Georgetown.

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