Out With A Bang

PHILADELPHIA -- Improbably, WVU pulled itself back into contention after what was perhaps its worst offensive half of the season. In an absolute thriller at the Wachovia Center, the Mountaineers finished the job, winning 68-66 in overtime and ending the home careers of Villanova's Reggie Redding and Scottie Reynolds with a loss.

Reynolds had a shot to win the game at the buzzer, but his open 3-pointer from the corner in front of the VU student section was just too strong, setting off a wild celebration on the Mountaineers' bench.

"Scottie's a great player," said WVU head coach Bob Huggins. "Thank goodness he missed the last one."

It was a wild ending to a game that showed few signs of being competitive -- let alone going to overtime -- in the early stages.

It looked like West Virginia was in for another disappointing outing against a top 10 opponent, as the No. 9 Wildcats jumped out to a 14-point lead in the first 10 minutes of play. Despite a brief rally, the visitors still trailed by 13 at the intermission.

But even one of the most miserable halves of basketball of the season -- particularly on the offensive end, where the squad scored only 16 points -- by the No. 10 Mountaineers wasn't enough to completely derail them.

The game was tied by the under-12:00 media timeout, as WVU opened the second half on an 18-5 run. A pair of Devin Ebanks free throws made it 34-34 at that point, and a back-and-forth affair ensued.

Neither team would build a lead of any more than five points the rest of the way, and both squads dueled each other shot for shot.

West Virginia (24-6, 13-5) finally grabbed its first lead of the contest with 9:30 to go in the game, as Da'Sean Butler made four free throws -- two each for a personal foul on Dominic Cheek and a technical foul on Jay Wright, who was angered by the referees' call against his freshman guard.

But Wright's counterpart on the Mountaineer sideline wouldn't be outdone. Upset that no foul was called when Joe Mazzulla was whistled for a traveling violation, Huggins lit into the officials. He was called for a technical foul of his own with 5:31 to go and his team trailing by two.

Reynolds' made only one of the two ensuing foul shots, but a lay-in by Cheek against WVU's 1-3-1 zone made it 50-45. Momentum, once more, seemed to be siding with the home team.

But the Mountaineers were undeterred, as Wellington Smith answered with back-to-back 3-pointers to give his team the lead back with 4:18 to play at 51-50.

Those shots forced Huggins to call John Flowers, who was waiting at the scorer's table to check in for Smith (who had struggled mightily to that point), back to the bench.

"[Smith] better have made that one, because he was coming out," Huggins said.

"You want your seniors to step up, and you certainly want them to be successful. Wells was probably as bad in the first half as he's been all year."

"But I told them, they're like geese. You can shoot at geese, and they'll fly away and then come back to the same spot the next day, because they forget. That's what I'm told. I told our guys, they're like geese. They don't know what happened in the first half. They just go play the second half. They don't know who's having a bad day. They forgot already. That's probably a good trait to have."

The senior from Summit, N.J., added another two points just moments after Corey Fisher had hit a pair of free throws, showing nice patience by double-clutching while defenders flew over his head near the goal, allowing an easy lay-in.

But he wasn't the only senior who played a monumental role in giving West Virginia a win in its regular season finale.

After a pair of Reynolds free throw gave VU a 55-53 edge with 1:05 to go, Butler canned a 3-pointer on the Mountaineers' ensuing possession. After a controversial charge call on Fisher (who appeared to barely touch West Virginia forward Kevin Jones, who fell down on the play), Butler then hit two foul shots to make it 58-55 in the final seconds.

Reynolds scored on a drive to make it a one point game, but Ebanks calmly sank a pair of free throws to push the lead back to three. But Fisher sent the crowd of 20,225 into a frenzy by hitting a 3-pointer from the corner with 7.7 seconds left to tie the game.

A bizarre sequence ensued, when Ebanks got the inbounds pass and ran out ahead of the pack, seemingly in good position to either attack the rim for a game-winning shot or pass out for a jumper.

But the forward stopped in his tracks shy of the 3-point arc and dribbled while time ran down, then put up a long jumper that wasn't even close at the end of regulation. Afterwards, Ebanks and Huggins said the sophomore didn't realize Fisher's shot was a 3-pointer, and thus, he expected Villanova to try to foul him to extend the game.

While Ebanks dribbled, Huggins desperately tried to get the attention of officials, by both screaming and signaling for a timeout. Apparently, those cries were lost in the din of the Wachovia Center crowd.

"They couldn't hear me. That's why you go like this, though, I thought," Huggins said, forming a "T" with his hands, when asked what the officials told him before the start of overtime. "It's hard not to see me."

In the extra period, West Virginia's defense took over. It allowed only one field goal for the hosts in the five additional minutes -- a 3-pointer from Corey Stokes that tied it at 66-66 with 36.3 seconds to go.

With the exception of two other trips to the free throw line (‘Nova was three-of-four from there in OT), the Wildcats were otherwise harassed into turnovers, missed shots, and even a shot clock violation, when Reynolds was triple-teamed and threw up a brick as the buzzer sounded.

Meanwhile, the Mountaineers did just enough scoring of their own to give themselves another marquee win just before the start of postseason play.

Kevin Jones scored a nifty left-handed lay-in off a nice feed from Butler to give his team the lead with 1:23 to go. And after Stokes' game-tying 3-pointer, Butler answered again, this time hitting a running bank shot that was not what he had originally planned when he jumped into the air.

The play was intended to have Butler drive into the lane, as he did -- but Huggins thought it would free seldom-used reserve Jonnie West for a shot to win.

"I put Jonnie in because, if they overhelped, I told [Butler] to go to Jonnie's side," Huggins said. "Jonnie's really shot the ball well this week. I thought he could make one, and you feel a whole lot better if you're up three than if you're up two."

"Scottie just stayed right with [West]. I think Da' wanted to throw it to him, but he saw he was covered, so he threw it at the basket. He threw it well at the basket, I should say."

That shot, with 5.8 seconds left, proved to be the game-winner, as Reynolds' 3-pointer at the buzzer fell no good.

"We've done this so much," Huggins said. "If there's such a thing as making the opponent overconfident, I think we've mastered that. We do a great job of doing that in the first half, and then we come out and play in the second half. We've done it all year."

"I don't like it much. But we didn't shoot it very well. We didn't pass it very well. But our guys compete. They've come back from deficits many times like we were facing. They come out in the second half many times like a new team. Sometimes they're a new team in the wrong way. But they're competitive. They do compete."

West Virginia couldn't buy a basket in the first half -- even at an arena named for a bank.

The visitors shot only 24 percent from the field in the opening frame (including a two-of-12, or 16.7 percent, mark from 3-point range). They were even worse at the foul line, hitting only two of their 10 attempts from there.

Adding insult to injury, many of the Mountaineers' misses were of the embarrassing variety. Huggins' squad had nearly as many airballs (five) as it had made field goals (six) in the first half.

His team did not score a point until the 13:11 mark of the first half, when Deniz Kilicli's half-hook shot went in to make it 10-2. The Wildcats would go on to build a lead of as many as 14 points shortly thereafter.

Despite all that, some sloppy play from Villanova (which committed 10 turnovers in the opening 20 minutes) kept WVU close for much of the half.

An 11-3 run that started just after the 10:00 mark drew the visitors back within as few as six points at 21-15 on a Truck Bryant free throw (the team's first successful attempt from the charity stripe after five misses) with 4:10 to go before the break.

But the Mountaineers would add only one more point (a Butler free throw) to their tally after that, and the Wildcats went into the locker room with a 29-16 lead.

WVU's third-year head coach said he was pleased with his team's defensive effort in the first half, and told his players they could come back if they could keep that level of play up in the second half.

"I told our guys at halftime, ‘I don't know if we could play any worse offensively, and yet, we hold them to 29 points,'" Huggins said. "And I think they're the best offensive team in our league. I thought if we could go out and continue to defend like that, we had to play better offensively. We couldn't play any worse."

Butler led the way for West Virginia, scoring 21 points and adding 10 rebounds in his 43 minutes of play. He made 13 of his 14 attempts from the foul line -- the lone Mountaineer to find success from there (as the rest of the WVU players combined hit only five of their 14 free throws).

Smith added 15 points and three blocked shots, while Ebanks continued his steady play of late with 12 points and seven boards.

For Villanova (24-6, 13-5), Reynolds had 17 points, but hit only five of his 16 shots from the field. Fisher added 12 points, and Redding had 10.

The outcome of the Pittsburgh-Rutgers game, to be played at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, will determine the seeding order of the Big East Conference's top four finishers in its upcoming tournament.

If the Panthers prevail, they will earn the No. 2 seed and West Virginia will slot in as the No. 3. A loss by Pitt would give the Mountaineers a second-place finish in the standings.

Either way, WVU has a double bye into the quarterfinals of the conference tournament, which begins Tuesday at Madison Square Garden. The Mountaineers will begin play on Thursday.

Villanova, which lost for the fourth time in its last six games, fell into the No. 4 slot. It also will receive a double bye and begin play in the quarterfinal round.


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