A Hole Too Deep

West Virginia dug almost all the way out of a 22-point hole but couldn't get over the hump as it fell to Notre Dame 70-68 in the Joyce Center on Saturday night as Da'Sean Butler's three-point attempt rimmed out with two seconds to go.

The eighth-ranked Mountaineers outscored the Irish by 18 points in the second half, rallying from a 20-point halftime deficit to make a game of it down the stretch. Trailing by 22 after an opening Irish hoop, WVU (12-2, 3-1) methodically trimmed the lead, getting it under ten at the 11:37 mark when freshman Dalton Pepper hit the first of his two three-pointers. WVU's rally was aided by a long Irish scoring drought from the field. Following Tim Abromaitis' three-pointer at the 14:53 mark, Notre Dame (14-3, 3-1) didn't score again from the field until 4:01 remained in the contest, when serial flopper Luke Harangody made a short jumper to give the Irish a three point lead at 69-66. Tory Jackson followed that with a free throw to put the Irish up by four at the 3:25 mark, but although that was Notre Dame's last tally of the game, it was just enough to hold off the Mountaineers.

Down the stretch, West Virginia had some good looks at the hoop, but could never get the final shot it needed to take the lead. Butler missed his final four tries, including the potential game winner, and Pepper missed a three of his own that could have given the Mountaineers the lead.

Notre Dame also went cold down the stretch, missing its final four shots and its final three free throw attempts. The last of those misfires, a wild shot by Ben Hansbrough, gave WVU a chance to win the game with 25 seconds left. However, Butler's try, which came from roughly the same spot on the court where he nailed the game winner over Marquette 11 days ago, hit the backboard and spun around the rim before falling out. Wellington Smith tried to secure the rebound, but the clock ran out before he could get control or get off another shot.

Notre Dame was able to hold on via a huge disparity at the free throw line. The Irish made 17 of 24 attempts at the stripe, while West Virginia got just four attempts, making two. While some of that difference was due to West Virginia's whopping 37 three-point attempts, it doesn't explain it all away. Fourteen of Notre Dame's 25 second half points came from the line. Harangody (9) and Abromaitis (2) were the only Domers to score from the field in the final 20 minutes.

The first half was an embarrassment for the Mountaineers, as WVU looked totally unfamiliar with anything approaching team basketball or efficient play. Notre Dame hit its first nine shot attempts of the game, most of them of the wide-open variety, in racing out to a 25-4 lead. West Virginia showed no inclination to cover the Irish at the three-point line, as Notre Dame made six of its seven first half attempts from beyond the arc. Things weren't much better overall, as the Irish made 75% of their shots in the first 20 minutes, nailing 18 of their 24 tries. That hot shooting resulted in one of the odder stats of the game, as Notre Dame didn't have an offensive rebound in the opening 20 minutes. Of course, with just six missed shots, there wasn't an opportunity for many retrievals.

Offensively, West Virginia didn't try to penetrate Notre Dame's 2-3 zone, and settled for 18 three-point attempts. Only three of those found the mark, and as a result the Mountaineers never got closer than 14 points after falling behind by the initial 21-point bulge. Only Kevin Jones played with any sort of spark or efficiency, as the 6-8 forward grabbed five offensive rebounds and scored on three putbacks to tally ten first half points.

WVU tried numerous personnel combinations to stem the tide, using ten different players in the first eight minutes of the game, but other than Jones, no Mountaineer could do anything at all against the packed-in Irish defense. West Virginia was an abysmal 10-40 from the field in the opening 20 minutes, and many possessions were marked by listless passing around the perimeter, followed by a long-range heave. WVU managed a couple of short runs, mostly sparked by Jones, but Notre Dame had an answer every time, and ended the half leading by 20.

West Virginia's second half lineup was fueled by the lineup of Joe Mazzulla and Dan Jennings, along with Pepper, Truck Bryant, Butler and Smith. Jones had 17 points and ten rebounds to record yet another double-double, while Butler had 13 points and nine rebounds. A foul-plagued Bryant added eight points, while the ever-calm Pepper chipped in six with a pair of three pointers. Devin Ebanks, who started the contest, saw only brief action and was held scoreless in eight minutes of action.

Harangody had 24 points and Abromaitis 17 to pace the Irish.

West Virginia continues its two-game road swing with a trip to USF on Wednesday night to face the Bulls. With the loss, the Mountaineers fell from first place into a tie for fourth in the Big East.

BlueGoldNews Top Stories