PoG: WVU - Notre Dame

While West Virginia's second half comeback bid fell just short, the BlueGoldNews.com staff still managed to make its picks for the top performances from the Mountaineers' 70-68 loss at the Joyce Center on Saturday night.


Kevin Jones.

When it would have been easy for the Mountaineers to lay down and give up after falling behind by more than 20 points in the game's first few minutes, their "Mr. Consistent" simply wouldn't allow that to happen.

The sophomore had another double-double, scoring a team-high 17 points and grabbing a game-high 10 rebounds. Of those boards, eight came on the offensive glass.

Jones was a big part of West Virginia's massive edge in terms of second chances, as the visitors had 18 offensive rebounds (to only four for the Irish).

That allowed the visitors to take a staggering 29 more field goal attempts than the hosts -- an advantage that was only offset by Notre Dame's massive edge at the free throw line (more on that later).

While Mountaineer backers will likely be disappointed about the team's second loss in Indiana in the first 10 days of 2010, there were some positives that could be taken away from the defeat.

One of them was that Jones continues to be a player that can almost always be counted on to bring a major contribution. If other pieces begin to fall into place around him, WVU may begin to truly play like a top 10 team by March.


  • Dan Jennings.

    With his team trailing by a stunningly large margin only minutes into the contest, head coach Bob Huggins looked for someone -- anyone -- to provide a spark of energy off the bench.

    One of the Mountaineers' more seldomly-used reserves helped stop the bleeding in the first half -- and helped turn the tide in the second.

    Jennings came off the bench and started a solid stretch in the opening half by forcing Irish star Luke Harangody into a rare miss (an airball, to boot).

    On the ensuing WVU possession, he canned a short jumper to draw his team within 36-20. Seconds later, he proceeded to draw a charge on Harangody -- one of only two times referees whistled the 6-foot-8 forward for a foul on the night.

    Dan Jennings

    In the second half, Jennings made another key defensive play, blocking a layup attempt from the home team's Joey Brooks. Dalton Pepper (more on him in a moment) then hit a 3-pointer to draw the Mountaineers within single digits at 54-46 with just under 12 minutes left.

    After a pair of free throws by Notre Dame's Tim Abromaitis, Jennings then slammed home a dunk off a nice feed from Pepper, making sure momentum stayed with the visitors.

    He ended up with four points (hitting both of his field goal attempts), a block and a rebound in his six minutes of action.

    Jennings hasn't gotten the minutes of some of WVU's other young players, but his athleticism and intensity shows almost every time he is on the floor.

    He could become a key role player for Huggins down the stretch -- even though the fight for playing time will get only more difficult when Deniz Kilicli can join the lineup in the coming weeks.

  • Dalton Pepper.

    While the freshman guard made a couple of nice plays in the moments mentioned above, he displayed plenty of additional skills that should be reassuring to Mountaineer fans.

    The one thing that doesn't seem to change about Pepper is his expression. Call the freshman a silent assassin, because he never seems to be rattled by pressure -- either in terms of his play or the look on his face.

    That remained constant despite the fact that the guard was asked to play at the point in stretches on Saturday night, as both Joe Mazzulla and Truck Bryant periodically found themselves in foul trouble.

    Pepper ended the contest with three assists to his credit against only one turnover, despite the fact that point guard is not his natural position. He added six points and a rebound in his 12 minutes.

    The freshman did still manage to look like a young player with some questionable shot selection, as he hit only two of his six attempts attempts from the field. Of those, five came from 3-point range.

    But Pepper has shown an innate ability to make shots this season. If he can add some point guard skills to his repertoire (and improve on his shot selection), the Levittown, Pa., native could also find himself called upon more and more in the coming weeks.

  • Free throw discrepancies.

    As mentioned previously, WVU attempted 72 field goals to Notre Dame's 43.

    The Irish managed to win despite that gap by being more accurate (hitting 53.5 percent of their shots overall -- and 75 percent in the first half) from the field and by taking 20 more free throws than the visitors.

    While it's debatable as to how much officiating may have had to do with that (there seemed to be questionable calls that went in both directions -- particularly in the second half), there's no questioning how head coach Mike Brey and company took advantage of their opportunities.

    Notre Dame went nearly 11:00 without a field goal in the second half. It managed to score 13 points in that span anyway because of repeated trips to the charity stripe.

    The home squad took 16 shots from the free throw line in that critical stretch, doing just enough to keep a hard-charging West Virginia team at bay.

    When Pepper made a 3-pointer to bring the Mountaineers within a single point (67-66) with 4:55 to go, the field goal drought finally ended, as Harangody made a jump shot.

    That would be the Irish's only field goal in the last 14:53 of the contest, but it would be just enough because of the squad's 17-of-24 (70.8 percent) success rate at the free throw line.

    It would be easy for West Virginia to blame the questionable officiating for its defeat, but give Notre Dame credit for making the free throws it needed to earn the victory.

    And when shots are not falling for WVU (as they were not early in the first half), it may serve the team well to attack the basket and earn some extra free throw opportunities of its own.

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