Our picks for player of the game and solid performances from West Virginia's upset loss at Big East foe Cincinnati.
Forward Alex Ruoff takes player of the game honors in a contest in which no Mountaineer player sufficiently separated himself. The sophomore scored a team-best 21 points on five of 14 shooting, four of which came from three-point range. Ruoff hit the game-tier late to force overtime, where Cincinnati outscored West Virginia 21-8 for a 96-83 win. The Spring Hill, Fla. native made all seven of his free throws, and also handled the ball coming upcort in key situations late to keep the pressure off Mountaineer point guard Darris Nichols.
Ruoff did take several threes late, missing the majority. That helped lead to WVU's funk in shooting down the stretch as it lost for the third time in as many Big East road games and for the fourth time away from home against as many major conference foes. The Bearcats, in getting the win at home over West Virginia for the second straight year, rallied from down 17 points for the 13-point win, a turnaround of 30, by far the largest rally on WVU this season in arguably the worst loss in the five-year John Beilein era. Ruoff hedged part of that rally, and his 21 points come one game after hitting for 13 points, seven boards and seven assists in a win over South Florida. He filled out the line with four rebounds and six assists against two turnovers in a whopping 41 of 45 minutes played.
Chasing the layout for the outstanding performances of the game for USF, frosh forward Da'Sean Butler earns net burner honors for his 14 points and solid shooting. The Newark, N.J. native made four of seven free throws and half of his four shots from long range. He also came up with eight rebounds and just one turnover. It was the second consecutive game in which Butler played well after a rough outing at No. 24 Marquette. No other players earned much of anything in a game much-needed by West Virginia. Frank Young went cold in the second half and took a rushed, poor shot at the end of regulation when the Mountaineer offense could have worked for a more quality look. Joe Alexander fouled out in regulation and Nichols missed five of six shots.
Cincinnati, to its credit and the chagrin of WVU's 1-3-1 zone and rebounding effort, made 45 percent of its three-point shots (nine for 20), while the Mountaineers missed 25 of 40, including nine of 12 by Young. The Bearcats were able to push the ball inside seemingly at will whenever they took the needed time to move the ball to the side and along the wing and baseline before hitting a cutter down the middle. The paint area, where UC got so many of its points in beating West Virginia last season, duplicated that again, though not as much off dribble drives. Marvin Gentry scored 32 points on nine of 14 shooting and nine of 12 makes from the foul line after averaging 5.5 points per game this season. That inside-outside work was too much for WVU to overcome.
Cincinnati's bench hit for 45 points and 23 rebounds with just three players in head coach Mick Cronin's eight-man rotation. Outside of gentry, the UC starters scored 19 points, and two players went scoreless. WVU was outrebounded 43-30, which led to far too many second chances that helped Cincinnati get back into the game after trailing 24-10 early. In a game of runs, WVU had 18-1 and 13-4 pushes, but UC's 14-0 run seemed to energize it, and even a long bomb just before the half that put the Mountaineers up double digits could not slow the relentless, steady comeback.
The officials get our first uber-negative net burner for not calling a technical at the end of regulation on Cronin, who, despite a whopping 41 to 20 free throw edge (UC made 30) – part of that due to team styles, obviously – complained about the calls. His raging antics late were reminiscent of former WVU basketballer and UC head coach Bob Huggins pleading for a technical on WVU after it nailed a three-pointer with less than two seconds left to give it a 75-74 win in the 1998 NCAA Tournament. Only Cronin ran all the way onto the floor, past the paint to get to the far corner where the loft pass landed in a last-second effort. He had to be restrained by another official and forcibly contained and shoved back to the Bearcat bench by his assistants in among the worst coaching outbursts this side of former Marshall head coach Greg White's sideline cheering during the Capital Classic.