MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Gary Browne’s 3-point basket with 12 seconds left sent the game into overtime, and then his big steal and layup late in overtime helped power West Virginia to a 77-74 come-from-behind victory over Cincinnati Saturday afternoon at the WVU Coliseum.
West Virginia was able to stop the Bearcats’ seven-game Big East road winning streak with five freshmen getting major minutes – Browne, Jabarie Hinds, Aaron Brown, Keaton Miles and Kevin Noreen – and senior guard Truck Bryant struggling to find his shot, going 2 of 16 overall including missing all eight of his 3-point tries.
“When you’re struggling like I was struggling, you just want to see one ball go in,” said Bryant. “It was struggle today and I’m just happy my teammates stepped up in clutch situations and won the game.”
“Those freshmen – they don’t have any quit in them,” added West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. “We kind of get it going and then they do a couple of dumb things to get people back in the game, but they compete. That’s the biggest part of the battle.”
Browne (13 points) and Hinds (12 points) were able to make up some of the scoring, but it was the fantastic all-around play of Kevin Jones that kept West Virginia (15-5, 5-2) hanging around when Bryant's shots weren’t falling.
“It was hard,” said Huggins. “We just didn’t make any shots.”
Actually, it was when Jones left the floor with 3:52 remaining in the first half after picking up his second foul that things went south for West Virginia. At the time, the Mountaineers were leading 30-22 before the Bearcats went on a 12-2 run to close the half to take a 33-32 lead into the locker room.
West Virginia missed all six of its shot attempts – all from long distance – and that allowed the Bearcats to get transition baskets from Dion Dixon, JaQuon Parker and Cheikh Mbodj to close out the half.
In the second half, the Bearcats (15-5, 5-2) built their lead to four twice at 53-49 and 55-51 before taking a five-point lead, 60-55, with 5:41 remaining on Yancy Gates stick-back layup.
But Hinds answered with a big 3-point basket at the top of the key and then Browne added a driving layup off of Dixon’s missed 3 to tie the game at 60.
Once again, Cincinnati built its lead to five after Justin Jackson’s basket and Wright’s 3, but Browne again answered with another big bucket and Deniz Kilicli got one of two from the line to make it a two-point game, 65-63.
Following another miss by Dixon, Jones stepped out and hit his second 3 to give West Virginia a 66-65 lead. Wright responded with a pretty floating shot in the lane with 1:33 left, and then added a pair of free throws with 28 seconds left to put the Bearcats up by three and setting up Browne’s game-tying basket.
After Browne's 3, Huggins frantically called timeout in order to get his defense set up for the final play of regulation. Earlier this week, Connecticut chose to play on and that allowed Sean Kilpatrick to hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Bearcats their third Big East road win of the season.
“Usually at the end we play point-drop and he was telling us do we want to switch the man or play point drop, but the way the game was going point-drop was working for us and that’s what we stayed in,” said Bryant of West Virginia’s defensive alignment on the last play of regulation.
The Mountaineers were able to stay in front of Dixon on his game-winning layup try, bothering him enough to leave it short with six seconds left. Keaton Miles rebounded the miss and got the ball out to Bryant for an attempt at a game-winning shot, but Bryant bobbled the ball at midcourt and a scrum ensued on the floor with two seconds left.
While all this was going on, Jones was clearly signaling for a timeout West Virginia didn’t have. The referees did not see it and after going to the monitor, they determined that the clock had run out before the tie-up was called to send the game into overtime.
“I feel very fortunate,” said Jones. “It was just so loud and everything was happening so quick and that’s the first thing that comes to your mind when the ball is being fought for like that. I’m glad that it didn’t happen and I’m glad it went to overtime and we were able to execute in overtime and make some key shots.”
Jones was terrific once again by hitting 11 of 15 from the floor, including both 3-point tries, to finish with a game-high 26 points. The senior also pulled down 13 rebounds for his 13th double-double of the season and the 27th of his career.
It was also Jones’ 12th 20-point game this year and the 16th of his career.
“He’s just a special, special guy,” said Huggins.
Kilicli added 13 points and seven rebounds – his final two coming on a big, sweeping left-handed hook shot in the lane with 31 seconds left in overtime to put the Mountaineers up by three.
“I thought Deniz was big for us,” said Huggins. “I was upset with Deniz at halftime because I didn’t think he rebounded the ball, but he was big for us at the end of the game and he was big for us in overtime.”
Overall, West Virginia shot just 43.7 percent (31 of 71) including 6 of 23 from 3. The Mountaineers held a slight 46-43 edge on the glass.
“Those are the kind that you’ve got to kind of grind out to win,” said Huggins.
Wright led Cincinnati with 17. Dixon and Kilpatrick scored 12 each while Gates added 10 points and 13 boards.
Cincinnati ended up worse than West Virginia from the floor, going 29 of 72 for 40.3 percent. The Bearcats also missed six key free throws.
“We did maybe the best job we’ve done of guarding because they spread you so much because of the threat of making a 3,” said Huggins. “I’m sure they feel like they didn’t shoot it very well and I can promise you we feel like we didn’t shoot it very well.”
Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said his plan was to try and keep West Virginia off the foul line.
"They made five free throws the entire game," said Cronin. "They lead the Big East in free throw attempts. We were minus-31 against them the last two years, so we weren't going to let them beat us at the foul line, but we did it in overtime."
A season-high 14,070 attended today's game, including members of the 2012 Discover Orange Bowl champion football team, which was honored at halftime.
West Virginia returns to action next Wednesday night in Madison Square Garden in New York City against St. John’s, while Cincinnati plays host to top-ranked Syracuse Monday night.