WATCH A REPLAY OF TONIGHT'S GAME
Gary Browne’s circus 3-point basket with 1.6 seconds left sent the game into overtime, and then West Virginia was able to withstand a point-blank miss at the buzzer to hang on for a 70-68 overtime victory over Missouri State Thursday night at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
The victory was number 700 for West Virginia coach Bob Huggins.
“When you’ve been in this 30 years and you don’t win games, they’re going to fire you,” said Huggins of winning his 700th game. Coincidentally, Huggins got his 600th victory on this same date four years ago against Canisius.
The Mountaineers (9-2) trailed by as much as 10 points with 8:34 remaining in the game. Kyle Weems had just hit a 3 from the corner, forcing Huggins to call timeout to reorganize his defense.
WVU responded with four straight points, both keyed by Browne, who hit a contested jumper and then on West Virginia’s next possession got past his defender before dishing off to Kevin Jones for an easy layup.
Back-to-back baskets by Caleb Patterson gave Missouri State a seven-point lead, 59-52, but Truck Bryant answered with a big 3 from the wing – his second 3 in consecutive possessions.
After a Weems dunk made it 66-51, a Jones free throw and a Browne steal and layup pulled the Mountaineers to within three, 61-58, with 2:39 remaining.
After an exchange of possessions, things looked bad for WVU when Nathan Scheer intercepted Bryant’s pass at the top of the key and went in for a layup with 1:03 remaining to put Missouri State up five, 63-58.
Browne got two of those back on a difficult jumper and then after a Weems miss along the baseline, Browne hit the 3 beyond the top of the key ahead of the buzzer.
“He hits that shot to send it into overtime and that’s really not what it was supposed to be,” said Huggins. “He was supposed to penetrate and then kick it out but it didn’t happen.”
In overtime, Kevin Noreen, playing in place of starter Deniz Kilicli who was out with a hip pointer, made two big free throws to begin the extra session and later pulled down a huge rebound off a Bryant miss with 29 seconds left and West Virginia leading 69-69. Noreen got the basketball to Bryant and he was fouled with 22.8 seconds left.
Bryant was only able to make one of two, giving Missouri State an opportunity to send the game into a second overtime with a 2-point basket or win it with a 3.
Missouri State coach Paul Lusk didn’t like what he saw from his team on offense so he called timeout with five seconds left.
After Huggins called timeout to see what type of inbound play Lusk was going to run, Missouri State got the ball to Scheer beyond the top of the key. Scheer faked like he was going to take a 3, drawing West Virginia’s Aaron Brown into the air, and then took off toward the basket where he had an uncontested layup to tie the game, but he missed, the ball clanging off the side of the rim.
“I thought the last four or five minutes of the game we really guarded them,” said Huggins. “And we did a good job of guarding them in overtime. But we’re getting back-cut a little bit too much; we don’t have the support and the truth is they don’t shoot the ball like this all the time.
“You watch film after film after film and they’re not making the shots that they made today,” said Huggins. “That seems to happen. Everybody gets fired up to play us.”
West Virginia’s lineup at the end of regulation and into the overtime consisted of Jones, Noreen and Brown at forwards, with Bryant and Browne at the two guard spots.
Kevin Jones led West Virginia with 16 points and 13 rebounds, while Bryant contributed 14 and the freshmen Brown and Browne, added 14 and 13 respectively.
“I wasn’t happy with Aaron Brown during the Tennessee Tech game because he was just fooling around during warm-ups and I thought he came out and played really well and made huge shots for us,” said Huggins.
With freshman Pat Forsythe (back spasms) and now Kilicli injured, Noreen was forced to play a season-high 23 minutes. He finished the game with 4 points and five rebounds.
“Kevin Noreen wants to do the right thing all the time,” said Huggins. “I have absolutely no doubt about that. Kevin’s not one of those guys who is going to burp one up just because he hasn’t gotten a shot in a while.”
Patterson finished with a game-high 18 for Missouri State, which drops to 7-4 with the loss.
Missouri State shot 53.8 percent for the game, but committed 15 turnovers and was beaten badly on the glass, 40-27.
Both teams struggled from the free throw line, West Virginia going 8 for 15 while Missouri State finished the game 4 of 9.
“We’re going to have to start making free throws,” said Huggins. “Truck’s got to make free throws for us. Gary missed a big free throw for us. We can’t continue to give away points at the free throw line the way that we did.”
Tonight's victory was West Virginia's second overtime win of the year. On Dec. 8 West Virginia defeated Kansas State 85-80 in double overtime.
Right now, depending upon whether or not Kilicli can go tomorrow night against Baylor, Huggins may be forced to start Noreen and then bring Dominique Rutledge off the bench.
“The problem with Dom is he just doesn’t know anything; he missed so much stuff because of the knee and he doesn’t understand conceptually what we’re doing,” said Huggins. “But he is athletic so hopefully we can get him in the right place.”
The Mountaineers will return to the floor tomorrow night to face sixth-ranked Baylor at 9 p.m. in a game that will be televised nationally on ESPN.