Mountaineers Hang On
By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
February 27, 2010
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Eighth-ranked West Virginia got big second half performances from Devin Ebanks, Kevin Jones and Wellington Smith to hold off Cincinnati 74-68 Saturday afternoon at the WVU Coliseum.
“We sure make it hard on ourselves,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. “I don’t know what it is, but everybody that sees a West Virginia uniform gets hot. They’ve got guys shooting 19 percent from 3 and they come in and make them like they’re supposed to. This is a team that has been getting killed because they haven’t made free throws, and they shoot 87 percent today.”
The Mountaineers got a big lift for their quest to earn one of four double byes in this year’s Big East tournament when Notre Dame defeated Georgetown earlier this afternoon, giving West Virginia a two-game lead in the win column over the Hoyas, Marquette and Louisville.
Marquette plays at Seton Hall on Sunday while Louisville plays at Connecticut.
In today’s game in Morgantown, West Virginia had fallen behind by 13 points with 3:13 left in the first half when Huggins took out his entire lineup and replaced it with Truck Bryant, John Flowers, Deniz Kilicli, Cam Thoroughman and Ebanks.
That group went on a 9-0 run over the next two minutes to cut Cincinnati’s lead to four, 37-33, and energize the crowd.
“I was just looking for somebody,” said Huggins. “I didn’t think we played very hard. We got beat in transition and we didn’t get back and that’s just not going to happen so I took them all out. I thought those guys really came in and gave us a lift. They actually came in and cut the lead to six and made it a lot more workable.”
Early in the second half, Cincinnati (16-12, 7-9) once again got its lead to 10, 46-36, before six straight points by West Virginia cut its deficit to 46-42.
A key sequence for the Mountaineers came with 13:22 left when West Virginia picked up six points in a span of just 31 seconds to make it a one-point game. Danny Jennings followed an Ebanks missed free throw and then Butler answered with a big 3 with 12:51 left.
A Jones layup gave West Virginia its first lead of the second half, 53-52, and the Mountaineers eventually built it to six, 66-60, with 4:59 left on Ebanks’ follow-up basket.
West Virginia got it to six a second time when Huggins called a play for Jones along the baseline against Cincinnati’s zone defense. Jones was able to catch the pass and go in for the basket.
West Virginia’s biggest lead of the second half was seven, twice, on free throws by Butler and Bryant.
“We talked for two days about we have to be assertive – we have to take the ball at them,” said Huggins. “They’re very big and very strong but not as mobile as we are and we wanted to continually attack the rim and put pressure on them and try to get to the foul line.”
Cincinnati, which missed all nine of its 3-point tries and was only 14 of 32 from the foul line earlier this week in a win against DePaul, came out firing in the first half. The Bearcats were 7 of 10 from behind the arc and also finished the game 13 of 15 from the line.
“We tried to trick them early. We tried to play a 1-2-2 which we haven’t played all year,” said Huggins. “Then we tried to play some 1-3-1 at the beginning of the second half and that didn’t work very well for us, so we just went back to doing what we do and going out and getting after people.”
"We missed some open looks, which will al even out by the end of the game, but what really hurt us was missing layups," said Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin. "When you miss a couple of layups it's crucial and we did it at crucial times when we needed a basket."
Cincinnati went 0 for 10 from the floor during a key stretch in the second half that enabled West Virginia to get back into the game. Overall, the Bearcats were 23 of 59 shooting for 39 percent.
“That was the best rebounding team in the league statistically and we out-rebound them by 11. We go 21 for 27 from the foul line after we have been just absolutely miserable in that area,” said Huggins. “When we made the run when we had to, I thought we executed pretty well.”
Jones led West Virginia with 15 points. Bryant added 14 while Ebanks finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Smith added 10 points, seven rebounds and three assists.
Vaughn scored 15 for Cincinnati. Stephenson had 14 but was just 4 of 16 from the floor for the game. Yancy Gates finished with 10 points, but did not grab a single rebound.
“I thought our post guys did a really good job,” said Huggins. “That is probably as good a job they’ve done defensively all year because Yancy is a really good player.”
West Virginia has another quick turnaround, facing Georgetown Monday night at the Coliseum for a 7 p.m. game that will air on ESPN. It will be Senior Day for Da’Sean Butler, Wellington Smith and Cam Payne.
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