WVU comes together to beat No. 13 Georgetown
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The fate of West Virginia's season may have changed with Saturday's 65-59 victory against No. 13 Georgetown at the Verizon Center, but things looked to be heading in a very different direction during Friday's practice.
"If it wasn't the worst I've ever been associated with, it's close," Coach Bob Huggins said. "We were awful."
At 1-2 in the Big East with a third straight conference road game just hours away, Huggins and the Mountaineers retreated to a film room. They ended up not looking at themselves, but looking within themselves.
"We talked about who's going to take ownership," Huggins said. "I think I'm going to be back next year. A lot of them won't. You better take ownership."
The meeting ended, the team traveled here by bus, went to bed early and literally slept on it. When the wake-up call came before the 11 a.m. game, the Mountaineers were rested and reassured.
"I knew everything was going to be good," said John Flowers said. "At breakfast, all everyone was talking about was the game and what they were going to do. We were ready."
An pretty evenly split crowd of 13,603 saw WVU outrebound Georgetown 32-23, generate 18 turnovers and play its best defensive game of the season against an opponent that usually prevents such an occurrence.
After frantic finishes in the preceding two games -- a loss at Marquette and an escape at DePaul -- the Mountaineers managed a lead that was at three points with 2:35 to go by making free throws, grabbing rebounds, forcing the Hoyas into mistakes and generally playing together better than they have this season.
"That's the most fun we've had this year," said guard Joe Mazzulla. "More than we've had in any practice, any game, any hotel. That was fun."
Casey Mitchell scored 16 of his game-high 28 points in the second half and took over different stretches with 3-pointers and three-point plays. Kevin Jones had 15 points and eight rebounds. Truck Bryant had nine points, including three free throws in the final 26 seconds, plus three rebounds and three assists.
The Mountaineers (10-4, 2-2 Big East) won with a three-player bench that didn't even attempt a shot, but was still irreplaceable. Mazzulla was 5-for-6 at the free-throw line and had three assists and two steals. Cam Thoroughman didn't score but had three rebounds, a late block and two steals.
One came with 34 seconds to go and WVU ahead, 62-59. A possession later Thoroughman anticipated a pass and forced another turnover.
Danny Jennings played just four minutes, but he posted up in the first half and was fouled, made the first free throw and missed the second, but grabbed the rebound and handed it to Mitchell for a layup.
"I think if you take any individual away from our team in this game, it wouldn't have been the same," Jones said. "That's because we had a collective team effort."
Five of the eight players had at least two assists.
"We shared the ball better than we've shared the ball all year," Huggins said. "We passed up open shots to get a better one."
The win was the 50th for Huggins in road/neutral games at WVU and ended a demanding stretch for his team. Only seven of the Big East's 16 teams play three straight conference road games this season and no one was asked to do it as early as WVU.
Now winners of two in a row after a loss at home against St. John's and at Marquette, the Mountaineers play three of their next four at the Coliseum. The one trip is to Charleston to play Marshall in the Capital Classic.
"If you're 1-3 in the Big East, your resume for the NCAA Tournament doesn't look so great," Thoroughman said. "To be 2-2 with a road win against a good team like Georgetown that you know is going to have a good league record at the end changes things up a little bit.
"It gives us something to look forward to and now we've got to make sure we go home and take care of business."
Georgetown (12-4, 1-3) was led by Jason Clarke's 16 points. Leading scorer Austin Freeman was scoreless in the first half and finished 3-for-8 for 11 points -- seven below his average. Chris Wright missed 10 of his 13 points and finished with nine points and five turnovers.
The game saw 10 ties and 11 lead changes, but the Mountaineers never trailed in the final 9:27 and led the last 6:51 when Jones made a 3 on a designed play after a timeout.
A jumper by Jones made it 62-56 with 3:02 to go, but Clarke answered with a three-point play. Bryant missed a jumper, but Wright committed the first of Georgetown's four straight turnovers at the end of the game.
The Hoyas attempted just 44 shots, their second-lowest total of the season. Their turnovers, the second-highest total this season, led to 19 points for WVU.
The Mountaineers eventually solved Georgetown's full-court zone defense in the first half and then played stubborn half-court defense to deny the Hoyas.
WVU threw the ball away on consecutive possessions and Georgetown had two easy scores to take a 13-12 lead. Jones made two free throws, but that was the team's only points for 4:48 as WVU missed 8 of 9 shots to trail 19-13.
Jones then scored on a set play out of a timeout and the Mountaineers made 4 of 5 shots to tie the score and force the Hoyas to call timeout.
Georgetown matched WVU's struggles. After Clarke made a jumper to take the 19-13 lead and push the Hoyas' shooting to 8-for-14, the team was 2-for-5 with five turnovers in the final 8:51.
The Mountaineers took a 29-25 lead at the half when Flowers made a 3 just before the buzzer. Georgetown was 10-for-19 with nine turnovers that WVU turned into 12 points.
WVU then recovered from a miserable start to the second half. The team missed three shots and turned the ball over twice as the Hoyas went up 32-29.
Mitchell started a rally with a three-point play off an offensive rebound and then blocked a shot to start a fast-break he finished a second three-point play.
"You know when a team is down at halftime they're going to come out real hard and you have to try to match it," Mitchell said. "I wanted to come out even harder. In the locker room, I said, 'We're losing. We need to keep thinking that way instead of playing like we're winning.'"
Steals and layups on consecutive possessions by Bryant and Flowers put the Mountaineers ahead, 40-34. A free throw by Jones then built the game's largest lead. Georgetown pushed and took its final lead, 44-43, when Wright made two free throws with 10:07 remaining.
Mitchell had another three-point play and then started trading 3s with Freeman before the Jones 3 gave WVU control and the 55-52 lead.
"It felt like a root canal at times, but when you play hard and you play together, it's always going to be fun," Jones said. "That's what we got away from for a couple games and that's what caused us to lose them. I think we're getting back to the point where everyone is having fun."