Escape To New York

WVU overcame a shaky first half and a pesky Virginia Tech defense to down the Hokies 71-67 and secure a spot in the Big East tournament.

Tech, playing a zone defense the entire way, took WVU out of their offense for long stretches of the game and frustrated leading scorer Drew Schifino. The Hokies played a trapping 2-3 zone, which they extended into the passing lanes, to stymie the WVU offense for much of the the first half.

"Drew was struggling a little bit tonight, but I wasn't frustrated with him," head coach John Beilein said. "We told the players don't quit, just hang in there."

Schifino, who sat out a long stretch of the second half after fighting to find a comfort zone against Tech's trapping, returned to score 12 points in the final seven minutes of the contest to help propel WVU to the win.

The Mountaineers, unable to get inside the Tech zone in the first half, took 20 three pointers in the opening half, which allowed Tech to rally from an early 11-1 deficit and take a 34-33 lead at the break.

"We haven't seen zone wire to wire," Beilein said of Tech's strategy. "They trap just enough to take you out of the offense, and we weren't ready for that. And even if we were, you can practice for it every day, but until you see it in the game and see their slides, it's tough. They play their defense very high and pressure the passing lanes."

Tech appeared ready to put the game away in the second half, moving out to an 11 point lead on a Bryant Matthews layup with 7:16 to go that pushed the sore to 63-52. WVU responded, however, with with an 12-1 run to tie the game at 64 on a three pointer by Schifino. A pair of Tyrone Sally free throws gave WVU the lead at 66-65, and some tenacious Mountaineer defense down the stretch kept the visitors at bay.

Tech had a huge advantage on the boards, outrebounding the Mountaineers by 22, but were unable to turn many of those into points. Tech shot a miserable 36% from the field, and made only half of their 34 free throws.

I am pleased with our effort, but we just didn't shoot free throws well," Tech coach Rick Stokes said afterward. "This game really came down to free throws. We only made 14 turnovers and we outrebounded them."

Despite struggling some in their offensive sets, WVU's attack showed Beilein's offense at its best at certain points. Of WVU's 22 field goals, 19 came off assists.

"That's some pretty nice basketball," Beilein grinned.

Even nicer is the fact that the Mountaineers won't be staying at home for the Big East tournament. WVU expects to face Providence in the opening round of the tournament next Wednesday.

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