On to the Sweet 16
By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
March 21, 2010
BUFFALO, N.Y. – West Virginia is going back to the Sweet 16. Da’Sean Butler scored 28 points to lead West Virginia to a 68-59 victory over 10th-seeded Missouri Sunday afternoon at HSBC Arena in Buffalo, N.Y.
The sixth-rated Mountaineers are making their fourth trip to the Sweet 16 in the last six years and the second under WVU graduate Bob Huggins, who led West Virginia to the regional semifinals during his first season in 2008.
Missouri (23-11) could never solve West Virginia’s tough half court man-to-man defense and an occasional 1-3-1 zone late when the Mountaineers got the lead.
West Virginia (29-6) really cashed in at the free throw line, hitting 25 of 33 for the game including nine in a row during a 13-minute stretch between halves when the Mountaineers could make only one field goal (a Truck Bryant driving layup).
"We wanted to attack their pressure," Huggins said. "When you are as aggressive as what they are, you're going to foul some. And we knew that. I think you don't foul when you don't attack. And we wanted to be in an attack mode and continue to attack them."
The Mountaineers were concerned about Missouri’s full court pressure and desire to make it a full-court, up-and-down basketball game. But West Virginia was able to control the tempo and force the Tigers to run offense, which is not their strength.
"When I said yesterday we're going to guard, they're going to have a hard time scoring against us," Huggins mentioned. "Everybody has a hard time scoring against us. Thank God they do. We have gotten a lot better over the last like three weeks to a month. We've gotten a whole lot better defensively."
"It was a regular press. We came to the ball, we met the ball a lot when they pressed and we got people coming back to the ball and we just took care of it," Butler added. "We didn't really panic. As a team we didn't really panic at all. We just stepped up to the challenge and played like men and broke the press.
After seeing West Virginia score the first eight points of the game and later leading 15-8, Missouri eventually tied it at 25 on a 3 from the wing by Kim English with 3:11 remaining.
Butler’s five free throws were the only points by either team for the rest of the half.
Missouri cut West Virginia’s lead to two, 31-29, early in the second half but could never take the lead.
Big shots by Devin Ebanks to answer a Zaire Taylor 3 and a Kevin Jones 3 to answer a Michael Dixon 3 kept it a two-possession game.
Butler pushed the lead to nine, 50-41, with three free throws as a result of being fouled by Dixon. A pretty Thoroughman basket from Butler with 9:50 left kept it at nine, 52-43, and two minutes later, Butler hit a huge running bank shot to make it 54-45 with 7:47 remaining.
"He's been our leader throughout the whole season," Jones said of Butler. "We look to him for a lot of things, and he's just been able to come through throughout the whole season. I know he'll keep on coming through for us. I'm just happy to be here and looking forward to playing Washington in the Sweet 16."
Another key sequence came with two minutes left when Kevin Jones rebounded Joe Mazzulla’s missed free throw that eventually led to a Mazzulla basket with 1:52 to go to make it 62-55.
Another Butler layup with 1:16 to go kept it a three-possession game and free throws by Jones and Ebanks iced the win for the Mountaineers. Missouri shot 32.8 percent from the floor for the game and only made six steals, four below their season average which leads the country.
"Cam was shooting the free throw. He missed his first one. In my head if I miss my first one, if I don't go out there and take care of business, I might miss my second one," Butler said of his key offensive put-back. "We always crash anyway. We kind of crossed and nobody really boxed me out, so I just went up there and grabbed it and laid it in, but it was just a matter of just getting to the basketball. I got there first before he did, and made the play."
West Virginia had a 41-38 advantage on the glass.
Ebanks contributed 14 points and Jones finished with 13 points and nine rebounds for West Virginia.
Missouri got 13 points from J.T. Tiller.
West Virginia’s 29th victory has tied a 51-year school record established by the 1959 team led by All-American Jerry West that reached the NCAA finals.
Earlier today, Syracuse also advanced to the Sweet 16 from Buffalo, giving the Big East Conference at least two teams in the regional semifinals. Pitt will try to make it three later today when the Panthers face Xavier.
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