Comeback Thwarted

It looked like one of those rare games where WVU had everything going just the way it wanted. Da'Sean Butler had just hit a pair of free throws to give his team a 63-46 lead with 8:40 to go. But the Mountaineers were forced to respond to a 14-0 Seton Hall run that brought it within three. Respond, they did, making enough free throws down the stretch to win 75-63 at the Coliseum on Saturday.

It was a stunning turn of events in a game that had been thoroughly controlled almost throughout by No. 8 West Virginia, which ran its record to 21-5 overall and 10-4 in the Big East Conference.

Head coach Bob Huggins and company held a lead of as many as 19 points in the second half, when Wellington Smith scored a jumper with 16:18 to go that made it 47-28.

And even with a lead of 17 points after Butler's two free throws at the 8:40 mark, things were already starting to go south.

All told, the Mountaineers failed to make a field goal in the final 9:05 of the game, as a spinning lay-in scored by Butler (who was fouled in the process) at that point would be the last time WVU would score from anywhere other than the foul line.

"I thought our defense had a lot to do with them not scoring toward the end of the game, when we set our half-court trap," said SHU head coach Bobby Gonzalez. "I think it caught them off-guard and got them out of sync a little bit."

"They started throwing long passes. They were less aggressive and we got them to stop attacking. We picked up our intensity and their length wasn't as much of an advantage at that point."

Said Huggins, whose team again just couldn't quite put together a 40-minute game yet again: "The problem is that we get it going and then we have guys who start doing things that are out of the context of what we're good at doing."

"It continues to rear its ugly head. We just have to get guys to do things they can do and stay away from the things they can't do. We've proven all the things that we can't do. There's nothing more to prove."

But, to their credit, the hosts made critical free throws when they counted, making 12 of their 16 shots from the charity stripe after a free throw from Jeremy Hazell drew the Pirates within three at 63-60 with 3:01 to play.

That, combined with a defense that finally began to earn some critical stops (holding Seton Hall to only three points in that last 3:01), allowed West Virginia to win by a relatively comfortable margin.

For the vast majority of the game, it had seemed as though that was going to happen anyway.

WVU took control with an early 23-6 run that turned an 11-6 deficit into a 29-17 lead after a Dalton Pepper 3-pointer.

The Mountaineers led 40-26 at the half after Truck Bryant hit a jumper just before the buzzer on a third-chance opportunity -- much to the frustration of Gonzalez, who stomped repeatedly while yelling in frustration at players who had given up rebounds before heading to the locker room.

As it often has this season, Huggins' team excelled at creating extra opportunities, grabbing 21 offensive boards. It converted those into 21 second-chance points.

That helped West Virginia keep its lead despite a sub-par shooting effort -- 8-of-25 (32.0 percent) in the second half and 37.9 percent overall.

"The positive is there isn't another team in the country that could shoot 37 percent against those guys and win by 12," Huggins said. "We're winning because we rebound the ball and guys make plays when they have to make plays."

After Seton Hall's Herb Pope scored the first two points of the second half on a lay-up, the Mountaineers went on a quick 7-0 run, punctuated by Smith's jumper that gave them their largest lead at 19 points with 16:18 to go.

While the lead wasn't continuing to grow at that point, it wasn't shrinking quickly, either.

After the Pirates (15-10, 6-8) got back within 10 at 54-44, answered back with a short 9-2 spurt, ending with Butler's two foul shots that gave his team a 63-46 lead with 8:40 to go.

But WVU wouldn't score another point until Smith made a pair of free throws with 2:37 left. In the interim, the visitors had surged back into contention, getting within three points at the 3:01 mark when Hazell made one of two free throws.

Asked if he was worried when the deficit got so low, Huggins quickly snapped back with a simple response.

"I was worried when we got up 18," he deadpanned.

But despite not making a field goal, the Mountaineer did enough defensively in those final minutes to slow down the Seton Hall onslaught.

Even if WVU had failed to score at all down the stretch, the game would only have gone to overtime, as the Pirates managed only three more points.

But West Virginia did score, adding 12 free throws to pad the lead back up to 12 points by the sound of the final horn.

Kevin Jones and Ebanks led the way for the hosts, tallying 16 points apiece. Jones added nine boards and Ebanks had six of his own -- all on the offensive end.

Butler added 14 more, despite struggling to a 4-of-12 performance from the field (1-of-6 from 3-point range) and a 50 percent success rate at the foul line.

For Seton Hall, Jeff Robinson was the only starter in double figures, scoring 16 points. Robert Mitchell came off the bench to add 10 more.

Herb Pope just missed out on a double-double with nine points and 10 rebounds. He fouled out trying to send WVU players to the line and extend the game in the final minutes.

Jeremy Hazell, who played part of the game with a wrap on his hand to keep a cut sustained on Wednesday night in a game against St. John's from reopening, had only nine points (and was held scoreless in the first half).

He had scored 41 against West Virginia in the teams' previous meeting, a 90-84 Mountaineer win in an overtime game in Newark, N.J.

"Obviously, Jeremy Hazell was not 100 percent, but he came back a little smoother in the second half," said Gonzalez. Indeed, Hazell removed the wrap himself in the second half and seemed to play more comfortably.

WVU has little time to enjoy the victory, as it travels north for a game against Connecticut on Monday night.


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