The Mountaineers, once down 18 points, had tied it at 64-64 at the end of regulation and seemed primed to advance to the fourth round for the second time in four years before missing three consecutive free throws while ahead by four midway through overtime. The misses allowed Xavier to an opportunity, and the Musketeers seized it, burying back-to-back three-pointers to lead 75-74 with 1:20 left.
West Virginia failed to score on its ensuing possession, but did hold Xavier without a field goal attempt until just two seconds remained on the shot clock. After a timeout, XU made the inbounds pass, then kicked to Raymond, wide open on the right wing. The junior buried the three to essentially seal the game with 28 seconds left. The play resembled West Virginia's loss at Pitt. Wellington Smith again left his assignment, and this time cost his team something bigger than a simple regular season win.
They play was actually to give Josh (Duncan) a lob," Raymond said. "But my man kind of dropped off on him to take away the lob. I squeaked behind the three-point line."
And away from Smith, who also missed a pair of free throws in overtime that loomed large down the stretch. The physical and mental lapses will likely be recalled more than the sophomore's eight-point outburst in the first half that jumpstarted the Mountaineers after they trailed 28-10. Still, it was a game WVU had control of late, yet let slip away by missing four of its last six free throws, including three consecutive in a stretch that should have all but secured a victory.
"Guys have got to make free throws down the stretch and unfortunately we were not able to," Smith said. "Maybe after we leave and our plane gets back we can look at it and say it was a success, but not right now."
More painful might be the four straight West Virginia misses with two minutes left. A bucket could have given the Mountaineers a 64-62 lead. Instead, Duncan – who played for the final 17:31 of the game with four fouls after WVU didn't attack him – was fouled on the other end and hit two free throws for a four-point swing. It was a microcosm of lost chances.
"We tried to take away some of the mismatches we thought we had," West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said. "We were just too stagnant, stood around too much."
The second half did showcase WVU's ability to play without the three-pointer. It hit just one all game to Xavier's 11 of 19, but remained in contention until the final 30 seconds. Trailing 32-25 at the half, WVU got within one point four times until claiming its first lead at 51-50 on Da'Sean Butler's lay-up with 9:44 left. The teams swapped leads on the next five trips, setting up final minutes in which both teams had chances to win. An Alex Ruoff free throw put West Virginia ahead 62-59 with 2:24 left. Xavier answered with Duncan's three-point play. The forward then made both ends of his one-and-one on the next XU possession before Joe Alexander tied the game at 64-64 with a bank shot with 14 seconds remaining.
But, like much of the final 13 minutes of the game, WVU let a chance to win slip through its fingers when Alexander missed the resulting free throw for a three-point play. Xavier took the remaining time off the clock before it missed a jumper at the buzzer to force overtime. West Virginia was led by Alexander's 18 points. Butler added 16 and Ruoff scored 14. Joe Mazzulla had 10 points, five rebounds and five assists.
Duncan led Xavier with a career-high 26 points and made three of four treys. C.J. Anderson scored 12, the only other Musketeer in double-figures. Raymond finished with eight points, including two threes.
"It was a lot of miscommunication and people not being where they are supposed to be," Butler said. "You let them continue to make plays like that down the stretch and they will win the game. That's what happened."
West Virginia finishes with a 26-11 record, the most wins for any team in school history under a new head coach. Its 10-game winning streak over Atlantic-10 teams was snapped, as was the chance to secure its 100th win in the last four years. Xavier (29-6) has won the most games in school history.
"That's the beauty of the tournament," Xavier head coach Sean Miller said. "Once you are in it, anything can happen. We needed a couple of bounces to go our way."
Xavier certainly got those early, going on a pair of 8-0 runs to jump out to an 18-5 lead with just seven minutes played. West Virginia failed to fight through screens and often chose to go underneath them s opposed to over the top, leaving shooters with open looks from behind the arc. The Musketeers used the advantage, hitting six of their first seven threes. The last was chased by a pair of free throws and a dunk off a play call from the sideline for a 28-10 XU lead halfway through the period.
West Virginia finally rallied via Smith, who scored eight consecutive points. Jamie Smalligan added a fall-away hook as the shot clock wound down to get within 28-18 before Xavier opened it back up by attacking inside. WVU answered with the final five points of the half for a 32-25 score at the break.
After Xavier hit six quick threes, it missed its final four of the half. West Virginia, as it had against Duke, failed to convert any of its six looks from the outside. But this was more because of defensive pressure and challenging every pass, catch and shot than because the Mountaineers were truly off. WVU also missed looks inside, including a lay-in and putback that were seemingly wide open. It made just nine of 27 shots in the first 20 minutes. Xavier hit 11 of 27, the three being the difference.
Note: Nichols set the WVU career mark for NCAA games played against Xavier. It marked his 10th appearance, bettering the nine games played by Jerry West and Willie Akers from 1958-60.