By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
December 19, 2009
Da’Sean Butler’s driving lay up with 1.2 seconds left lifted No. 6 West Virginia to an 80-78 victory over Cleveland State Saturday afternoon at the Wolstein Center in Cleveland, Ohio.
The Mountaineers improved to 8-0, but it was far from easy. Full court pressure really bothered West Virginia, particularly in the second half when the Mountaineers saw their 17-point lead dwindle to eight during a two-minute stretch.
Three straight turnovers by Devin Ebanks, Kevin Jones and Wellington Smith led to a 10-0 Viking run.
“I told them at halftime that (full-court pressure) was coming,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. “They’ve done this every game they’ve got behind. They just played harder than we did. We have worked on press breaker every single day since we started practice.”
Another bad stretch after a Butler jumper with 13:38 remaining got the Vikings to within six, 57-51, with 9:56 left. Once again, Butler hit a 3 to stop the run.
“This group hasn’t played 10 minutes all year – not all five at once,” said Huggins. “We’ve had guys play, don’t get me wrong, but not all five at once.”
West Virginia built its lead back to 12, 68-56, with 5:44 left on a basket by Jones. Then Cleveland State ran off seven straight points.
Eventually, Cleveland State pulled to within one, 77-76, on a 3 by Jeremy Montgomery. Norris Cole fouled Butler on the other end with 27 seconds left, but Butler was only able to make one of two from the line, permitting Montgomery to tie the game at 78 with 15 seconds to go.
“I’m embarrassed because I’ve taken a lot of pride in that my kids really cared,” Huggins said. “My kids have been hard-playing guys. We haven’t always been good, we didn’t make shots sometimes, but we always played hard. This team hasn’t played hard.”
West Virginia also led by as many as 17 points in the first half and took a 46-33 lead into the locker room at the break on a 3 ahead of the buzzer by, you guessed it, Butler.
Jones scored a career-high 23 points to lead the Mountaineers. Butler added 18, including 5 points in the waning seconds of both halves.
“If Da’Sean fouls out we lose,” said Huggins. “Where would we be without Da? Da’Sean Butler is the guy who comes in most every day and works like crazy. He cares, listens, and tries to do what you ask him to do.”
Truck Bryant added 12 and Ebanks came off the bench to score 11 for West Virginia.
Cole led all scorers with 29 for Cleveland State, now 4-8. The Vikings made 27 of 54 from the field for 50 percent while forcing 17 West Virginia turnovers.
“How are we going to guard the people we’ve got to guard?” said Huggins. “We’re giving up 45 percent for the year. We gave up 50 today. We gave up 39 a year ago and it’s the same guys. It all comes down to attitude and effort.”
West Virginia has a couple of days to clean things up before returning to the court on Wednesday night to take on 25th-ranked Ole Miss at the Coliseum. The Rebels blew out Centenary 108-64 earlier today to run their record to 10-1.
Wednesday’s game will tip off at 7:30 p.m. and will be televised nationally on ESPN2.