Battling Mountaineers Come Up Short

  • By John Antonik
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  • March 23, 2017 11:07 PM
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SAN JOSE, Calif. - Jordan Mathews’ 3-pointer from the corner with 59 seconds left helped propel No. 1-seeded Gonzaga to a 61-58 victory over West Virginia in an NCAA West regional semifinal game here this afternoon at the SAP Center in San Jose, California.
Mathews’ 3 came shortly after West Virginia had taken a 58-55 lead on Jevon Carter’s 3 from the top of the key with 1:47 remaining.
Following Carter’s basket, Tarik Phillip fouled Gonzaga’s Nigel Williams-Goss as he was dribbling the basketball with his back to the basket, putting Williams-Goss on the line for two free throws, which he made.
Then, Daxter Miles Jr. was fouled by Josh Perkins as he attempted to follow Carter’s miss. Miles missed both free throws, but on the second miss Nathan Adrian managed to come up with the ball underneath his basket where he attempted to put it back in. Perkins blocked Adrian’s shot from behind and the ball was retrieved by Williams-Goss, who found Mathews in the far corner for his game-changing 3.
At the other end the floor, Phillip was unable to get a close one in the lane to drop and Silas Melson was fouled by Miles Jr. with 37 seconds left after he rebounded Phillip’s miss.
Melson made one of two, making the score 61-58 and giving West Virginia an opportunity to tie the game. Carter’s deep 3 with 21 seconds left was off the mark but Miles Jr. was able to grab the rebound, giving West Virginia another opportunity to get a final shot to tie it.
But the Mountaineers couldn’t get one off as Gonzaga smothered Carter beyond the top of the key as time expired.
“That was a mistake on my part,” Carter admitted afterward. “’I knew they had a lot of guys at the top. I should have drove to the basket, but knowing it was a 3-point game, I tried to go for the 3 since I’d been hitting. If I am in that position again, I’ll take it to the basket.”
Carter was the only West Virginia player who could consistently score against Gonzaga’s stifling half-court defense, despite the Mountaineers out-rebounding the much taller Bulldogs 41-34.
Carter finished with 21 points on six of 17 shooting, but the Mountaineers couldn’t come up with a second scorer.
West Virginia (28-9) hit just 16 of its 60 field goal attempts for 26.7 percent and no other players reached double figures. Adrian (two for seven), Miles Jr. (three for 11) and Phillip (one for 11) struggled the most from the field.
“You tell me another team in the country who can shoot 26 percent from the field against a No. 1 seed, 21 percent from 3, and still could have - should have - won the game,” Huggins said. “I think that says a lot about what kind of guys we have.”
Gonzaga (35-1) didn’t shoot well either, making 18 of 44, but the Bulldogs were able to spread out their scoring just enough to overcome the Mountaineers.
Seven-foot-one center Przemek Karnowski, junior forward Johnathan Williams and Mathews scored 13 each, while Williams-Goss finished with 10.
The game was stopped frequently by blowing whistles with both teams combining for 51 fouls. Another stoppage late in the game lasted nearly five minutes when officials had difficulty determining which team had possession of the ball underneath West Virginia’s basket.
Adrian said the continual stoppages affected the flow of the game.
“You really don’t get into a rhythm,” he said. “But again, we’ve been dealing with it all year. We foul a lot - it’s just the way we play. But you can’t shoot 16 of 60.”
The first 10 minutes of the game was a prelude of things to come as both teams struggled to make shots, the majority of the points at the outset coming from the free throw line. West Virginia converted 15 of 20 while Gonzaga hit 11 of 17 from the line as both teams combined to commit 27 fouls before intermission.
Gonzaga had an early four-point lead, 13-9, on a Melson jumper in the lane and then led by five, 18-13, on Karnowski’s left-handed hook shot close to the basket.
But West Virginia battled back to tie it at 22 on a Phillip free throw, and then briefly took the lead, 24-22, on Adrian’s baseline drive. Another Karnowski hook shot tied the game at 24 with 3:19 remaining. Karnowski’s basket turned out to be the final field goal of the first half for either team.
West Virginia ended the first half missing its last six shots, while Gonzaga couldn’t convert its final shot try right before the first-half horn, a Melson drive to the basket.
“Their size bothers everybody around the rim,” Huggins said. “When you’re driving at the goal and you run into a 7-1, 300-and-whatever-he-is, it’s hard to score. And we just didn’t make shots that we normally make.”
Gonzaga’s biggest lead of the game was eight, 45-37, with 13:59 remaining on Karnowski’s short jumper, capping a 13-5 Bulldog run and forcing Huggins to call timeout.
When play resumed, Carter answered with a big 3 at the top of the key, and then a minute later he converted a traditional three-point play to pull the Mountaineers to within two points.
Gonzaga, which has defeated West Virginia all four times the two schools played dating back to an NCAA Tournament first-round game in 2012 in Pittsburgh, advances to its third Elite Eight under Few.
“If you’ve ever played basketball then you always dream of going to the Final Four and winning a national championship and playing on this stage,” said Carter. “To know you were so close and you gave everything you had and to come up short, it hurts.
“But for me, I can’t let this game hurt me too much. I got another year but I know for Nate, he’d done so I know it has to hurt a lot, probably a lot more than it hurts me,” said Carter. “I got another crack at it so I’m going to get in the gym and work.”
This was West Virginia’s fourth trip to the Sweet 16 under Huggins, and its seventh since 1998.