Holding On

So far this year, West Virginia's men's basketball team has found an avenue to exploit in remaining undefeated. On Saturday against Seton Hall, it was a Pirate shortcoming that contributed mightily to WVU's 90-84 overtime win.

West Virginia's defense was again shaky at times, yielding 41 points to Jeremy Hazell, including a deep, yet open, three-pointer that tied the game with seconds to go in regulation. The Mountaineers also gave up 17 offensive rebounds while getting just nine of their own -- an area in which they are usually dominant. Although WVU did outrebound the Pirates by a 49-41 margin, they didn't hold their normal commanding edge. Where the Mountaineers were able to stay in the game was at the free throw line – more specifically, at Seton Hall's. The Pirates were a woeful 16-33 from the stripe, which worsened their ugly 280th national ranking coming into the contest. The 48.5% performance was just one percentage point better than the Mountaineers shot from the field, and allowed West Virginia to escape the upset bid.

Both halves played out in similar fashion, with West Virginia (10-0, 1-0) jumping out to an early lead before falling prey to big Seton Hall runs. WVU, playing solid defense in the opening minutes, jumped out to an early nine-point lead, and pushed it to 11 at 31-20 after Joe Mazzulla hit a pair of free throws with 6:35 to go. However, the Pirates then responded with a 13-2 run, again fueled by WVU's inability to handle the ball cleanly, and tied the score at 33-all on Hazell's three-pointer just three minutes later. From there, the teams played fairly evenly down the stretch, with West Virginia holding a 41-39 lead at the break.

West Virginia again showed susceptibility to pressure, as the Pirates, switching between a straight man-to-man and an first pass double-team look, forced the Mountaineers to turn the ball over six times in the opening half. Balanced against just two turnovers of their own, the Pirates were able to take advantage of the extra chances to stay in the game at the break. While the turnovers didn't approach the raw numbers of those WVU suffered in previous games, they came at key junctures to help fuel Seton Hall runs.

The pattern repeated itself in the second half. Kevin Jones and Devin Ebanks combined for 13 of WVU's first 18 points of the half to give West Virginia a bit of breathing room at 61-55, and although the Pirates cut the margin to four, the Mountaineers stayed in front with five key points from Wellington Smith. When Butler complete a three-point play after being fouled on a scoop shot with 56 seconds to go to put the Mountaineers up by ten, just about everyone in the Prudential Center except the Pirates themselves thought it was over. However, Seton Hall (9-2, 0-1) again made a lightning fast run, cutting WVU's lead to four with 26 seconds left. That burst was helped as both Butler and Ebanks missed the front end of one-and-one chances. Hazell then hit a three after a Wellington Smith turnover, but Butler extended the lead back to three with a pair of free throws. Hazell then hit an improbable bomb of at least 30 feet to tie the score at 77 and send it into overtime.

"We've been talking about trying to finish people off," WVU head coach Bob Huggins said. "We did a heck of a job early in the game, made shots and defended well. It's hard to understand. We kind of let them back in, and I just told them the biggest disappointment in this team is we have not made the scouting the most important thing. We have not made it that important."

For the third consecutive period, West Virginia opened strongly. Butler hit a three on WVU's first possession and Ebanks drove the lane for a floater to put the Mountaineers up by five.. Seton Hall scored four straight to cut the margin to two, but Butler the converted a pair of free throws and Jones hit a big three off an offensive rebound to put WVU up by seven. There would be no miracle comeback this time, however, as Seton Hall ran out of time to manufacture a third rally.

Although it was able to win the game, the Mountaineers couldn't stop Hazell, who poured in 41 points on 14-33 shooting. He made nine of Seton Hall's 16 free throws. Herb Pope had 11 points and 11 rebounds, while Eugene Harvey added ten.

West Virginia was led by Ebanks, who scored 22 points and pulled down 17 rebounds. Jones was right behind with 19 points and 14 boards, while Butler tossed in 21 and had six assists against just one turnover.

West Virginia will attempt to move to 2-0 in the league when it hosts Marquette on Tuesday at the Coliseum.


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