By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
March 12, 2010
NEW YORK – For the second straight night, sixth-ranked West Virginia was pushed to the limit before hanging on for a heart-stopping victory.
Last night, it was Da’Sean Butler’s 3-point basket with 1.3 seconds left that lifted the Mountaineers to a 54-51 victory over 11th-seeded Cincinnati.
Tonight against seventh-seeded Notre Dame, West Virginia saw Tory Jackson’s potential game-winning 3 glance off the front of the rim with four seconds left, and then Wellington Smith was able to strip Tyrone Nash’s game-tying put back attempt to preserve a 53-51 Mountaineer win.
“At the time I saw him shooting the ball I said, ‘Don’t go in,’” said Butler. “Either you win or you lose on that one. I just prayed he didn’t.”
With tonight’s win, the Mountaineers will be making their second-ever Big East Tournament championship appearance tomorrow night against a Georgetown team that is looking for its eighth Big East Tournament title. The eighth-seeded Hoyas cruised to the finals with an 80-57 victory over Marquette earlier tonight.
It looked like West Virginia (26-6) was also headed in that direction against Notre Dame, leading the Irish by 10, 43-33, with 7:18 to go and Notre Dame playing a slowdown game.
But the Irish (23-11) were able to take advantage of some missed West Virginia free throws, two front ends of 1-and-1s by Devin Ebanks and Da’Sean Butler, to help them go on a 9-3 run that was keyed by back-to-back 3s from Ben Hansbrough to make it a one possession game, 48-45, with 3:34 remaining.
“We were supposed to shadow Hansbrough a little better than what we did in the second half,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. “He made two big 3s.”
Notre Dame then whittled West Virginia’s lead to one, 48-47, on a pair of Jackson free throws before Joe Mazzulla ended WVU’s drought with a driving layup with 2:41 remaining. Mazzulla’s basket was two of his season-high 8 points coming off the bench.
Kevin Jones got two of his 10 points from the free throw line with 1:56 left to give West Virginia a five-point cushion. Then Butler’s free throw with 1:02 left made it a four-point cushion Hansbrough’s layup.
Hansbrough’s two free throws with 47 seconds remaining once again made it a two-point game, 53-51. On West Virginia’s possession, Butler missed an opportunity to ice the game when he missed a 3 with 12 seconds left.
“Bad shot,” Butler admitted afterward.
“I am starting to have a lot of confidence in our guys screwing up enough to let them back into the game,” Huggins joked. “We had opportunities. You think about the transition opportunities we had and we blew, and we have not shot free throws nearly as well as we are capable. And we didn’t take care of the ball the way we need to take care of the ball.
“I tell them all of the time, ‘You know I’m not happy about it.’ We’re going to try to keep fixing it, but at the end of the day we’re 26-6, playing for a Big East championship,” Huggins added.
Notre Dame, playing three games in as many days, jumped out to an early 9-6 lead before going cold. The Irish made just one field goal (a Luke Harangody 3 from the wing) during an 11-minute stretch that helped turn West Virginia’s three-point deficit into a 17-12 lead.
The Mountaineers’ biggest lead of the first half was six, 23-17, on a pretty Butler turnaround jumper. Hansbrough answered with a 3 with 41 seconds left and actually hit a long 3 at the buzzer that would have tied the game at halftime.
But replays clearly showed the basketball was still in his hands when the buzzer went off and after reviewing the video tape, lead official Tim Higgins waved off the basket.
For the game, Notre Dame had great difficulty scoring against West Virginia’s defense, hitting just 15 of 44 shots for 34.1 percent. Fourteen of Notre Dame’s 51 points came at the free throw line.
West Virginia shot a much better percentage overall (48.8 percent) than it did Thursday night against Cincinnati (35 percent), but the Mountaineers made just 3 of 19 from 3-point range. In the two Big East tournament games so far, West Virginia is just 7 of 39 from behind the arc.
WVU also controlled the glass with a 37-22 advantage. Smith had eight while Butler and Ebanks grabbed seven rebounds each.
Butler scored a game-high 24 points on 9 of 15 shooting and is now only four points shy of becoming just the third player in school history to score 2,000 career points. The other two players are consensus All-Americans Jerry West and Hot Rod Hundley.
Butler is already the school record holder in career victories with 102; West Virginia is 102-40 with Butler in the lineup.
Huggins also passed legendary UCLA coach John Wooden for 21st place on the NCAA all-time victory list with 665. Only three active coaches in college basketball (Mike Kryzewski, Jim Boeheim and Jim Calhoun) have more wins than Huggins.
“I’ve spent some time with Coach there and we’ve played in the Wooden Classic several times, so I got to spend some time with him,” said Huggins. “But I honestly don’t think about those things.”
Hansbrough led Notre Dame with 17 points. Harangody finished with 10.
West Virginia and Georgetown will meet for the second time this year on Saturday night at 9 p.m. for the Big East championship. WVU becomes the first No. 3 seed to reach the Big East finals since St. John’s did it in 2000.
The Mountaineers have lost both times to Georgetown in the Big East Tournament, the last time coming during Huggins’ first year at West Virginia in 2008.
ESPN will televise the game nationally.
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