Final Minutes

As the West Virginia – Georgetown game hit the critical four-minute mark in the second half, the outcome was still obviously in doubt. Although West Virginia had rallied to take the lead, the Hoyas were still in great position to grab their eighth consecutive home win, and it appeared that the Mountaineers were doing all they could to help them achieve that outcome.

As those final four minutes began to count down, WVU suddenly stopped doing many of the things that had allowed it to rally from an eight-point halftime deficit to take the lead. In little more than a minute, West Virginia committed two turnovers and forced a shot – mistakes that seemed to mirror those committed down the stretch in the waning moments of its last two losses. It all looked as if Georgetown was poised to mount its own comeback and send West Virginia to its sixth consecutive loss at the MCI Center, but then, as quickly as the Mountaineers collapsed, they began playing one of their finest stretches of basketball of the season.

Long scoreless streaks are nothing new for this team. The Mountaineers routinely weather four- or five-minute periods without a point, but when they appear on the horizon in the waning minutes of the game, the cause for concern is greater. And this one, had it fully materialized, would have been a crusher.

Starting the bad sequence off, J.D. Collins forced a pass inside that was easily stolen by Georgetown. On the next possession, Mike Gansey forced up a fadeaway three-pointer that was totally out of rhythm. West Virginia then forced a Georgetown miss, but Collins saw the ball stripped from him by Brandon Bowman, who was lurking behind him as he prepared to take the ball up the floor. The cover-your-eyes display had many observers wondering if it was the start of another breakdown that would lead to an 0-2 week, or worse.

However, as quickly as the floodgates seemed to have opened, the experienced Mountaineers slammed them shut. West Virginia protected the ball and patiently executed its offense, and good things began to happen. Senior Kevin Pittsnogle found openings for three consecutive shots, senior Gansey redeemed himself with a back door cut for another hoop, and WVU suddenly led by 11 points.

It didn't just happen on the offensive end, either. Following two back-to-back Hoya hoops that cut the lead to 54-51, the Mountaineers yielded just one more two pointer until a meaningless Georgetown three-point play with just one-tenth of a second on the clock. Even during the ragged stretch at the top of the four-minute segment, WVU didn't allow the Hoyas to do much offensively, which certainly contributed to the Mountaineer bounce-back down the stretch.

Trailing by 11, the Hoyas were forced to foul, and although the game appeared to be over, head coach John Thompson III and his staff obviously believed there was still hope. Georgetown had cut deeply into a similar West Virginia lead a month earlier at the Coliseum, and caused several nervous twitches before the Mountaineers finally salted the game away. Without a doubt, the Hoyas believed, and rightly so, that they could effect a similar strategy this time.

The only problem, however, was that the Mountaineers didn't cooperate by missing from the line. After a Georgetown hoop cut the margin to nine, West Virginia made seven of its final eight free throws to eliminate any hope the home team had of making a miraculous comeback. Gansey hit a pair, Joe Herber duplicated the feat, Collins went 1-2 and then Herber bounced home two more to give WVU a 69-53 spread – the largest of the game.

Of course, this doesn't automatically mean that the Mountaineers will execute flawlessly down the stretch in each of its remaining games any more than it did they were falling apart after the tough loss to Pitt. However, it does show, once again, that West Virginia possesses the ability to right its ship in the most difficult of circumstances. Just in case you needed a reminder.

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