Late free throws by Truck Bryant and Kevin Jones helped West Virginia to a 50-44 victory over South Florida Saturday afternoon at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
The way the two teams play defense – and miss shots – you had the feeling that the first team to 50 was going to win this one. Well, that team turned out to be West Virginia.
The Mountaineers (19-12, 9-9) won this game at the line, going 18 for 21 overall, including 16 for 16 from their two seniors Bryant and Jones, compared to just 29 percent shooting from the floor when USF was guarding them. In fact, West Virginia’s top three scorers, Jones, Bryant and Deniz Kilicli, combined to make just 10 of 38 from the floor.
“We shot (29) percent and won,” said an incredulous West Virginia coach Bob Huggins.
A key sequence in the game came with 39.6 seconds left and West Virginia leading by two, 46-44, when USF’s Jawanza Poland was called for an offensive foul trying to get into the lane. And then on the other end of the floor, Bryant was fouled by Ron Anderson Jr. with 13.5 seconds left as the Mountaineers were trying to run out the clock.
Jones finished the game with 18 points and 11 rebounds for his 20th double-double of the season while Bryant added 16 points – 12 of those coming at the line.
“Truck finally got some calls going to the basket,” said Huggins. “There have been games, quite honestly, when he’s been knocked down like that and didn’t get the call.”
USF (19-12, 12-6) got 11 from Anthony Collins, the younger brother of former Mountaineer guard J.D. Collins. No other Bulls player reached double figures.
“When (Collins) gets it in the lane he’s good,” said Huggins. “He shoots that floater as well as anyone we’ve played this year.”
West Virginia led South Florida at halftime 24-19 before the Bulls scored the first eight points of the second half to retake the lead.
“We started the second half doing dumb things,” said Huggins. “We don’t get back one time and it ends up a three-point play and then we chased a down screen away from the ball, which you never chase a down screen away from the ball, and they curl it for a layup. So we kind of turned (South Florida) loose.”
The victory assures the Mountaineers of another .500 record in Big East regular season action in their final campaign in the conference. The win also bolsters West Virginia’s NCAA tournament résumé heading into postseason play.
“This is our 21st game against people in the top 100 in the RPI, which is the most in the country, and depending upon what Villanova does today they could get into the top 100,” said Huggins. “Twenty two of 31 games playing people in the top 100 of the RPI ... there isn’t any question (of WVU deserving an NCAA at-large bid). This was another top 50 game and another top 50 win.”
Now West Virginia will watch the scoreboard tonight when Seton Hall takes on DePaul. If the Blue Demons can knock off the Pirates then the Mountaineers can get a first round bye in the upcoming Big East tournament, beginning next Tuesday in New York City.
“As long as we’re having fun, let’s just go on and win in New York,” said Huggins.