A Little Help From Their Friends

A cast of supporting players kept West Virginia close in the first half, and the starters rose from their mid-day slumber in time to finish a comeback in the second half. The Mountaineers rallied from a 13-point deficit to to beat Cincinnati 74-68 at the WVU Coliseum on Saturday afternoon.

It was the work of reserves -- particularly that of seldom-used forward Cam Thoroughman -- that helped keep the hosts close in the first 20 minutes. The junior had a career-high seven points (all in the first half) to help WVU rally to within 39-33 at the intermission.

Thoroughman was just one part of a wholesale substitution by Mountaineer head coach Bob Huggins with 3:12 remaining in the half.

After giving up back-to-back transition baskets to give UC its biggest lead of the game at 37-24, Huggins called for a timeout and changed his entire line-up -- going with Thoroughman, Deniz Kilicli, John Flowers, Truck Bryant and Devin Ebanks to replace Da'Sean Butler, Wellington Smith, Kevin Jones, Casey Mitchell and Joe Mazzulla.

"I used to do that all the time," said Huggins afterwards. "I just can't stand people playing harder than us. We got beat twice in transition, and we didn't make a great effort to get back. If we kept the same group in and kept getting beat in transition, we'd be down 20 at the half."

The reserves responded, though, going on a quick 9-0 run to draw within 37-33. A lay-up by the Bearcats' Steve Toyloy stopped the bleeding, but WVU would continue to chip away after halftime.

Cincinnati (16-12, 7-9) still had a lead of eight points 50-42 with 14:20 to play. But momentum would go back to the hosts, as regular starters finally began to perform to expectations.

A 3-pointer from Kevin Jones got things started on what would ultimately become a 14-2 run, giving the Mountaineers taking their first lead since the 9:34 mark of the first half when Jones scored a lay-up to make it 53-52.

All told, the sophomore forward had 10 of his team-high 15 points in the second half.

Both Huggins and UC head coach Mick Cronin pointed to the rebounding prowess of West Virginia in the second half as a key to the turnaround. After ending the first half with identical rebounding marks, the gap between the teams opened in the final 20 minutes, with WVU grabbing 11 more boards than its opposition in that span of time.

"We were not able to bring down the ball in the second half, which is really the story of the game," said Cronin. "If we would've been able to out-rebound them, I think we would've had plenty of chances to win the game -- and we most likely would have."

Instead, his squad faltered down the stretch. After a pair of Lance Stephenson free throws gave UC a tenuous 60-59 lead with 7:47 to go, West Virginia's defense clamped down, holding the visitors to only two points in the next 6:57.

In the mean time, the Mountaineers built a 69-62 lead with only a minute to go, which would prove to be insurmountable.

The Bearcats were denied a key win that would have helped build their fledgling NCAA Tournament resume by that WVU defense. Cincinnati hit only nine of its 31 shots in the second half (29.0 percent) and didn't make a 3-pointer in the second half until the final minute of the game.

That was just after the Big East Conference's next-to-last ranked team in terms of 3-point field goal percentage had hit 70 percent of its long range shots in the first half.

"They shot it really well, and they did what everybody else has tried to do to us," said Huggins. "They tried to spread us, use the ball screen and play off the dribble. That's an effective way to play if you're making 3s. If you're 5-of-7 from 3, it's pretty effective. If you go 0-of-7 from 3, then it's not very good."

Deonta Vaughn led the visitors with 15 points, five assists and five rebounds in his 29 minutes of action. Stephenson just missed out on a double-double, contributing 14 more points and nine rebounds.

Yancy Gates, who had torched WVU to the tune of 22 points and 11 rebounds in a Mountaineer loss at Cincinnati last year, scored only 10 and could not grab a rebound.

The No. 8 Mountaineers (22-6, 11-5) had four players in double figures. Jones led them with 15, while Bryant added 14 points (nine of which came from the foul line). Ebanks had a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

For the third time in the last month, West Virginia must turn around quickly and prepare for a Big Monday game following a Saturday contest. It faces Georgetown, which lost to Notre Dame earlier Saturday, in a game at the Coliseum in around 48 hours.

If WVU can win, it will secure one of the top four spots in the Big East -- and the double bye in the league's tournament that comes with it.

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