Going Out A Winner

It wasn't the blowout it looked like it might be early, but the No. 10 Mountaineers will take it. After leading by as many as 27 points early in the second half, West Virginia did enough to keep No. 19 Georgetown at bay and won a Big Monday game on Senior Night at the Coliseum 81-68.

A night that served as the denouement of the Coliseum careers of Da'Sean Butler, Wellington Smith and Cam Payne was emotional for all involved.

Butler, who had promised not to cry during the ceremony beforehand, made good on that vow. But afterwards, he simply could not hold back any longer, and tears rolled down his face -- both in post-game interviews with the media and when he exited the game for the final time with 30 seconds remaining.

After scoring a pair of free throws that were the Mountaineers' final points, Casey Mitchell entered the game for him, drawing a loud ovation from the 13,211 in attendance. Butler went to the middle of the bench, hugging reserves Cam Thoroughman and Jonnie West, and began to weep.

But, unlike the Senior Night of former WVU guard Alex Ruoff a year ago, Butler's tears weren't out of frustration.

That was because West Virginia was able to build a massive early lead -- one big enough to sustain the mid-game swoon that has become almost a staple of every contest played by the squad this season.

After leading 43-26 at the break, the hosts went on a quick 10-0 run to start the second half. With a lead approaching 30 points and a Georgetown offense that had struggled to find even the most moderate of success to that point, it seemed as though that elusive "40 minute game" might be in the offing for the final home contest of the season.

But that was not to be. The Hoyas answered WVU's surge with a 27-9 run of their own, taking advantage of several easy opportunities off turnovers and the success of center Greg Monroe and guard Chris Wright.

A fast-break lay-in by Jason Clark off a Wright steal of the Mountaineers' Truck Bryant made it 62-53 with 5:53 to play.

"When they made the run, they threw the ball inside where they wanted to throw the ball," said WVU head coach Bob Huggins. "They're just so much bigger than we are on the inside. We didn't put as much pressure on the basketball. We did for a good period of time, then we let down with ball pressure and let them crawl back in."

But West Virginia did just enough offensively to push the edge back to double figures, and Georgetown (which was without its leading scorer, Austin Freeman, due to an illness) simply could not get any closer.

"This team has been put together with Austin, making him one of the focal points of what we do," said Hoyas coach John Thompson II. "We anticipated the game plan with him out there, and he took a turn for the worst last night. We just went into the game without time to prepare because we fully anticipated him being out there."

Solid free throw shooting and a change to the 1-3-1 zone defense, which has been used in similar spots several times this season by Huggins, stopped the bleeding. The Hoyas committed turnovers on back-to-back possessions after WVU went to the 1-3-1, keeping them from drawing back within single digits.

In all, it was the Mountaineers' defense that made the difference. It forced 20 Georgetown turnovers and turned them into easy points on almost every opportunity. The hosts had a 24-4 edge in points off turnovers at game's end.

"The biggest thing was that we got some easy baskets, and we haven't gotten a lot of those this year," said Huggins.

Everything seemed to come easy to West Virginia in the first half, when it wasted little time in building a double-digit lead. That grew to as many as 22 points with 1:40 to go in the opening frame, as Georgetown threw the ball away time and time again, committing 12 turnovers in the first 20 minutes.

"We played pretty well," said the team's third-year head coach. "I thought we had good patience on both ends, and it's really important that you have patience defensively when you play Georgetown. Then we tried to push them out and force them out of what they wanted to do, and we were fairly successful at doing that in the first half."

Meanwhile, even players who had been struggling with their shots were making the Hoyas pay.

Butler had 12 of his team-high 22 points in the first half, avoiding the kind of fate that befell Ruoff, who went scoreless and fouled out a year ago on Senior Night. Reserve guard Casey Mitchell was perfect from the field in the first half and scored eight points.

"I thought we ran pretty good offense and made some shots," Huggins said. "That helps. Da' and Casey came in and made some shots for us, and that loosened things up a bit."

"(Point guard) Truck (Bryant) was so much better. The key to the game was Truck. Truck ran the offense so much better for us today than what he has been doing."

Four Mountaineers reached double figures. Butler led them with his 22, while Devin Ebanks had 15, Kevin Jones added 14 and Bryant had 11.

For the Hoyas (19-9, 9-8), Monroe paced the effort with 22 points. Wright added 21 more and seven assists, but no other player would reach double figures.

West Virginia moves to 23-6 overall and 12-5 in Big East play heading into its regular-season finale, a clash with No. 9 Villanova on Saturday at the Wachovia Center.

"When you're one of the better teams in this league, you're going to play Monday games and your schedule is going to be top-loaded," Huggins said. "Our schedule has been top-loaded. Coming into this game, we were No. 5 in the RPI, and this certainly won't hurt."

"We're going to go play another top 10 team. We didn't do a very good job against them here. Hopefully, we'll do a lot better job."

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