ROSEMONT, Ill. – Casey Mitchell’s 18 points and Demiz Kilicli’s 14 helped West Virginia hold off DePaul 67-65 in a Big East game at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill., Tuesday night.
West Virginia (9-4, 1-2) earned its first conference victory of the year but it wasn’t easy. Late turnovers and poor execution down the stretch enabled DePaul to nearly erase the Mountaineers’ eight point lead with five minutes remaining.
“We survived,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins.
The Mountaineers made one field goal during a five-minute stretch late in the second half, committing four turnovers in the process, helping the Blue Demons tie the game at 63 with 1:31 remaining on a 3 by Jeremiah Kelly.
Truck Bryant’s three-point play with 1:18 left gave West Virginia a three-point cushion, and the Mountaineers looked like they were going to be able to close the game out when Brandon Young turned the ball over with a minute to go. But Jimmy Drew took the ball away from Bryant along the sideline and got the ball to Young, who Joe Mazzulla fouled while going to the basket. Young hit both free throws to pull the Blue Demons to within one, 66-65.
“We have a handoff over in the corner, get trapped, and lose the ball,” said Huggins.
Following a West Virginia timeout, Bryant was unable to get his contested shot near the basket to go down, Tony Freeland pulled down the rebound and called timeout with 12 seconds remaining.
When play resumed the Blue Demons had a great look at the basket, but Young’s jumper from the elbow was short, John Flowers pulled down the rebound and was fouled by Drew with .9 seconds remaining. Flowers hit one of two from the line and following another DePaul timeout, the Blue Demon’s inbound pass the length of the court to try and get off a game-winning shot was knocked away by Cam Thoroughman.
“We worked 1-3-1 yesterday just in case we needed it and they got a pretty good shot,” said Huggins. “We were fortunate enough to rebound it.”
The Mountaineers shot 51.9 percent from the floor and out-rebounded DePaul 35-32, but it was their 16 turnovers, nine by West Virginia’s two point guards, that led to 22 Blue Demon points.
“There were a lot of things that didn’t go right today,” said Huggins.
Mitchell did most of his scoring in the first half and finished the game 7 of 13 from the floor. Kilicli had another strong effort on the offensive end of the floor, going 7 of 8, and teamed with Mazzulla to help the Mountaineers get their biggest lead of the game at 14, 58-44, with 10:08 to go.
“We’re up 14 and all we’ve got to do is spread them and back cut them because they have to come and get the ball and we decide within the first 10 seconds of the shot clock that we’re going to put our head down and drive it,” said Huggins. “We’re just going to drive it until we hit somebody - or we end up shooting a shot that doesn’t hit the rim.”
Kevin Jones added 13 points and matched Flowers’ team-best six rebounds.
Cleveland Melvin led DePaul, now 6-9, 0-3, with 17 points. Young added 10.
“We’re going to have to go back and look at tape and then go back to practice on Thursday and try and fix it,” said Huggins. “It’s frustrating.
“Hopefully we’ll play better against Georgetown - and we have played Georgetown very well in the three-plus years that I’ve been here,” said Huggins.
West Virginia returns to the road once again on Saturday, facing a 12-3 Hoya team in Washington, D.C., in an 11 a.m. game that will be televised nationally on ESPN2.