West Virginia Rebounds, Rips Providence

Darris Nichols scored 23 points and hit four 3-pointers in a key second half stretch as West Virginia rallied from down a dozen to beat Providence 77-65 Saturday.

The Mountaineers used a 17-2 run over the final six minutes of the opening half to lead by four at the break. Then Nichols took over. The point guard canned four threes over an 11-minute span to help WVU build a 64-52 lead with roughly six minutes left. Providence was within 56-50 with eight minutes left until Nichols hit a three and Joe Alexander – who scored 19 points one game after missing all nine shots in a loss to Cincinnati – dunked. PC missed a free throw, and Nichols hit another shot from behind the arc for the 12-point lead. The teams played evenly the rest of the way, Providence getting no closer than nine.

The 64-52 lead was a complete flip from the first half, when the Friars mixed outside shooting with interior control to lead by 12 at 36-24. Cam Thoroughman then made the play of the game. The redshirt freshman dove on the floor and forced a loose ball, which led to an Alexander lay-up. That triggered the 15-0 run, part of WVU's 17 points in the last 19 scored. The teams then traded leads twice in the opening 90 seconds of the second half before Nichols hit back-to-back threes. Thoroughman made a jumper to start a brief 6-0 run to put West Virginia ahead 56-48, and that segued into the dozen point edge.

"I thought the play of the game was Cam diving on the floor keeping it alive and Alexander scores," Huggins said. "Then we go on a run. I thought Cam was really (great). Guys that don't listen and play hard and dive on the floor can sit here. If we have to lose, I'd rather lose with guys like Cam Thoroughman."

Mazzulla added 11 points and Da'Sean Butler scored nine and had six rebounds for the Mountaineers (16-6, 5-4 Big East), just the second team in 10 games to beat Providence at home. The Friars (12-9, 3-6) were led by Randall Hanke, who scored 18 points. Brian McKenzie added 11. Weyinmi Efejuku, who hurt the Mountaineers with 19 and 24 points in the last two series meetings, had just nine. A game after missing 40 of 50 shots, WVU made 28 of 55, including seven of 13 from 3-point range. PC, now on a four-game losing streak, hit 24 of 54 tries (47 percent), but were outrebounded and had more turnovers.

The win snaps a two-game losing streak for the Mountaineers, which increased their Big East-leading scoring margin. It also setup a major showdown with rival Pitt on Feb. 7 at the Petersen Events Center. The Panthers lost tonight to UConn, but are still in the top half of the league. West Virginia has nine games left and will likely need to win at least five to secure a solid NCAA chance entering the Big East Tournament.

"We are still in a hole, a hell of a hole," Huggins said. "I want Mazzulla in the hole with me and Cam Thoroughman in the hole with me. They will give you everything they can. Some of the guys won't do that. We all have to do our part. Thursday we have to bring more energy and guard a little better than we did."

It appeared early on that West Virginia would again settle for average shots and a lack of intensity on defense. But when Thoroughman entered and slapped a ball away in the front court to allow Alexander's lay-in, WVU had first points in nearly three minutes - and a shot of confidence.

Butler helped start the late first half run by hitting a jumper from the corner and Ruoff and Mazzulla chased that with a 3-pointer and lay-up, respectively. Mazzulla then hit another lay-in following an Alexander jump shot and Nichols' pair of free throws. That ended the 15-0 run; Alexander and Geoff McDermott traded baskets to end the opening period with West Virginia ahead three. The bucket gave Alexander 12 points in the first half. He finished seven of 15 from the floor.

It was a remarkable rally after the contest appeared to be out of hand early. Providence was carving up the Mountaineers from the outside in, and, other than the first five possessions when WVU scored, PC owed the half until late. West Virginia went ahead 11-8 lead before Providence answered with a 15-4 run over the next six minutes to take a 23-15 edge. That lead roughly held until the seven-minute mark as PC nailed five 3-pointers through the first 13 minutes to go ahead by a game-high 36-24. The Friars had turned the first portions into the game into what it desired: an inside-outside battle, with West Virginia's proficiency in the paint against PC's shooting from behind the arc. The Mountaineers went through man and zone looks before settling on the point-drop defense. But PC found holes there and continued to hit shots from beyond the arc – until the late run spurred by Thoroughman and the defense.

The Mountaineers shot 60 percent in the first half, hitting 17 of 28 shots. Providence made 14 of 31 for 45 percent – the exact same mark it had from behind the arc in hitting five of 11 attempts. West Virginia is now even in the all-time series at 11-11. It had lost seven of the nine games in Providence entering.

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