WVU First to Punch a Ticket to Sweet 16

  • By John Antonik
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  • March 18, 2017 02:45 PM
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BUFFALO - West Virginia likes these trips to Buffalo, New York. Seven years ago, its journey to the Final Four began in Buffalo and this year, the trek now moves on to the Sweet 16 in San Jose, California, after the Mountaineers deposited fifth-seeded Notre Dame, 83-71, here today in an NCAA Tournament second round game.
It is West Virginia’s fourth trip to the Sweet 16 under coach Bob Huggins, and its second since 2015.
"We wanted to wear them down," Huggins said. "We wanted to make it really hard at advancing the ball. They shoot the ball so well if you don't trap them and you don't do a good job and make the right rotation they're going to make shots."
Today, Huggins rode the hot outside shooting of guard Jevon Carter, who scored 24 on eight of 15 shooting, and Daxter Miles Jr., whose 18 came on five of eight shooting.
"All year we've been telling ourselves that we've got the best group of guards in the country, and we truly believe that," Carter said. "So, when it's time for us to play, we go out there and give it our all. Sometimes it works, but we are going to put forth 100 percent and we're going to live and die with it."
Notre Dame's Mike Brey was certainly impressed with Carter's game.
"Jevon Carter was an assassin out there," he said. "He's just a great college guard."
West Virginia (28-8) led from wire to wire, the Mountaineers’ full-court pressure defense forcing Notre Dame to turn the ball over 14 times and never really allowing the Irish to get into an offensive rhythm.
Bonzie Colson led all scorers with 27 points. Colson hit 10 of 15 from the field, including four of five from 3, but he wasn’t much of a factor on the defensive end of the floor once he picked up his fourth foul with 9:47 remaining and Notre Dame trailing by nine.
After an early flurry from Notre Dame to begin the second half, West Virginia kept its margin in a comfortable eight-to-nine-point range.
"We threw it away four straight times to start the second half, which we're prone to do," Huggins said. "Our whole deal with them has been do what you can do. Don't try and be something you're not."
Two Steve Vasturia free throws pulled the Irish to within seven before Esa Ahmad answered with a big 3 from the corner to push the advantage back to 10 with 5:43 left.
Colson banged another 3 with 4:32 remaining to make it 68-61, but again the Mountaineers answered when Elijah Macon followed up Carter’s miss with 3:58 to go.
Notre Dame (26-10) then got it to six on a Matt Ryan 3 before Carter responded with the biggest basket of the game with 2:35 to go, a pretty step-back 3 from the left wing.
The Mountaineers also took care of business at the free throw line, making all 11 of its attempts in the first half and converting 21 of 26 for the game.
Notre Dame, too, was deadly from the free throw line hitting all 17 of its attempts.
Tarik Phillip scored 12 while Ahmad and Macon contributed 11 each.
West Virginia set the tone by scoring the first 10 points of the game and led by 11 twice in the first half, at 15-4 and then later at 26-15. Notre Dame missed its first five shots, made nine of its next 15 but finished the first half hitting one basket over its remaining 4:31- that coming when Carter goal-tended Rex Pflueger’s driving layup attempt.
"I thought our start really hurt us," Brey said. "We were in a 10-0 hole and you're kind of digging out against them the whole day."
Following a Miles Jr. jump shot to make the score 28-18, WVU, Notre Dame used an 11-4 run to pull within three, 32-29. Threes from Ryan and Vasturia preceded two Temple Gibbs free throws to bring the Irish to within one possession of the Mountaineers.
Here, West Virginia answered with a pretty Phillip feed to Sagaba Konate for a dunk, Jevon Carter followed with a pull-up jumper just inside of the arc and then Macon added two free throws to build the lead back to nine, 38-29.
Notre Dame’s first-half field goals matched its turnovers (10-10), but the Irish managed to stick around by hitting all 11 of its free throw attempts.
Vasturia was the only other Irish player to reach double figures with 11.
Notre Dame came into this year’s tournament having more NCAA Tournament wins over the past two years with six, the Irish making back-to-back Elite Eight trips with the nucleus of those two teams on the floor today.
West Virginia achieved its 28th victory - the third most in school history behind the two Final Four teams in 2010 (31) and 1959 (29).
"They're really good - really good," Brey said. "They've got the look. They can play for a while.
"The one thing about West Virginia that's the same, when we played them back in the Big East and more so today, they got men," Brey added. "They have old dudes, and staying old is a good thing in college basketball. They were a little older than us today."
The Mountaineers now move on to the West Regional semifinals in San Jose against the winner of top-seeded Gonzaga-Northwestern to be played later today.
The regional semifinal will be played on Thursday, March 23. Tip times will be announced later.