Too Little, Too Late

For the second-straight weekend, a late comeback bid by West Virginia fell just short. The No. 9 Mountaineers nearly rallied from a 10-point deficit with 1:25 remaining, but Da'Sean Butler's three-quarter court heave at the buzzer wasn't close and Syracuse left Morgantown with a 72-71 win on Saturday afternoon.

WVU's final minute spurt was the last in a game that stayed reasonably close throughout. The Orange's 10-point lead was the largest either team held all game, and the edge changed hands six times.

But for most of the contest, it was the visitors that found themselves ahead on the scoreboard.

They took the lead for good when Arinze Onawaku scored on a put-back with 11:47 remaining, part of a 9-0 run that rescued Syracuse at a point in the game when the Mountaineers had taken a five point lead and seemed to have all the momentum on their side.

That quickly changed.

It started with a tip-in by Andy Rautins, who had beaten WVU's Da'Sean Butler for position on an offensive rebound.

That accounted for two of the Orange's 14 second-chance points, which was one point better than West Virginia's total in that statistical category, which it typically dominates. Three of those extra opportunities came after missed free throws, much to the chagrin of Mountaineer coach Bob Huggins.

"I thought what broke our back is that they rebounded the ball at the foul line three times," he said. "You just can't give teams like that three extra possessions when you have inside position. It wasn't one or two. It was three times. Twice they got it, once they tied us up."

After Dalton Pepper was pressured in in the front-court and threw the ball away towards the SU basket, Brandon Triche outran multiple defenders, picked the ball up and laid it in easily.

After Onawaku's layup, Triche added a 3-pointer, turning the visitors' five point disadvantage into a 46-42 lead. They needed just 1:59 to make the game-changing run happen.

While West Virginia (13-3, 4-2) responded and pulled back within a point at 48-47, when Truck Bryant made one of two free throws, it could never get back over the hump. SU surged once more, going on a 13-4 run to claim a 61-51 lead with 2:42 left.

Many in the WVU Coliseum crowd (officially listed at 15,271 -- the fifth-largest in the building's history) began heading for the exits. They nearly missed an improbable comeback victory.

Still trailing by 10 with 1:25 left, Butler got things started with a jumper to bring it down to 65-57. After Huggins called his team's last timeout, Butler stole the ball from Triche and passed ahead to an open Pepper for an easy lay-in to bring the deficit down to six.

Triche then made a pair of free throws, but Bryant hit a 3-pointer to make it 67-62 with 34 seconds remaining. SU's Kris Joseph then missed one of his two free throws after being fouled, and Butler canned another trifecta to bring West Virginia within only three points.

Orange forward Wes Johnson then only managed to make one of two attempts from the charity stripe, giving WVU another chance to cut into the edge. But Devin Ebanks drove into traffic and missed an off-balance shot attempt, seemingly ending the chance to come back.

This game recap presented by The Book Exchange

It seemed all but over when Johnson went back to the line and hit both of his free throws, but Scoop Jardine fouled Bryant on a 3-point attempt with seven seconds left. The sophomore guard canned all three attempts, bringing the Mountaineers back within three at 71-68.

Jardine then missed one of his two free throws, and Bryant hit a deep 3-pointer to bring the disadvantage down to a single point at 72-71. Joseph then missed both of his free throws under pressure, but Butler couldn't come close after collecting the rebound under his own basket with only 2.5 seconds left.

"He shot it before he should have shot it, but how can you blame him?" asked Huggins.

"If they made the second (free throw), we had a play. It's hard to have a play off a miss. I was hoping it went in. Then we had a chance."

The late offensive spurt -- and that of the entire second half -- stood in sharp contrast to the style of play in the first 20 minutes of action.

Syracuse (17-1, 4-1) held a tenuous 26-25 lead at the intermission after building an edge of as many as seven points in the first half. Both defenses dominated early, as the Orange had committed four turnovers in the first 4:07 of the game while holding WVU to only 2-of-12 shooting to start.

The Mountaineers were so active on defense early that SU was not even able to attempt a shot for a stretch of 3:24 near the beginning of the contest.

"West Virginia is a great defensive team and a very hard team to play against, and I thought we were tough enough to win the game," said Orange head coach Jim Boeheim. "I think it was a big step up for us, because WVU is a tough place to play with great fans."

In the end, as Huggins had said it would, the outcome was decided by the players -- and not the two high-profile coaches.

"The truth is, Devin goes 4-of-12 (eight points) and Da'Sean goes 5-of-13 (13 points) -- and those are supposed to be our studs," said the third-year Mountaineer head coach. "And in all honesty, a lot of those were at the end of the game."

As a result of occasionally poor execution on both ends and on the glass, West Virginia fell for only the fifth time under Huggins -- and the first time in 28 tries -- when scoring at least 70 points in a game.

A big part of Syracuse's second half scoring spree was the play of Rautins, who had to fight to earn his 12 points against a tough defense -- and while playing in foul trouble (he ultimately was disqualified after picking up his fifth personal with 2:25 to go).

"Rautins made, I thought, some huge shots for them," Huggins said, before recalling a tough fall-away shot the guard took while under duress from WVU's Joe Mazzulla. "We don't have anybody that could attempt that shot and hit the rim. They made plays we didn't make."

For the Mountaineers, Bryant scored a game-high 18 points and added three assists. Pepper helped break down the Orange's trademark 2-3 zone in the second half, scoring 15 points off the bench and hitting a trio of 3-pointers.

West Virginia faces another tough week, starting Wednesday in Charleston for the annual Chesapeake Energy Capital Classic against an improving Marshall team before returning to the Coliseum to play Big Ten foe Ohio State, which won at then No. 6 Purdue 70-66 its last time out.

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