Mountaineers' end game needs improvement
MORGANTOWN - When the end almost mercilessly arrived Wednesday night, No. 25 West Virginia had held the opponent to a historically low point total, below 30 percent shooting and won the rebounding battle against Seton Hall by a dozen.
The 55-44 win against he Pirates had all the trademarks of a Bob Huggins production at WVU. It was even in line with what the reshaped Mountaineers had done in going 2-1 the previous three games with scores of 56-46 and 66-55 in victory and 55-54 in defeat.
What they were before 9,729 inside the Coliseum was what they'd been for the past 10 days and now three games without suspended leading scorer Casey Mitchell.
Yet no one was too happy with the way this one felt.
"We've set such a high standard the last two weeks and we've gotten our identity as far as playing together and passing the ball and executing offense," point guard Joe Mazzulla said. "We really got away from that the last 11 minutes of the second half and we really started to play out of character.
"We don't want to get complacent. We need to get better every day and we're a little down on ourselves for not playing the full 40 minutes the way we expected."
The Mountaineers (15-6, 6-3 Big East) led 33-17 at halftime and shot 51.7 percent with 10 assists on 14 baskets. Play in the second half was good enough to lead by as many as 24 points with 13:56 to go. The Pirates (10-13, 4-7), who missed 12 of 13 shots to end the first half and got nothing from leading scorer Jeremy Hazell in the second half, made it uncomfortable.
They outscored WVU 21-9 in the final 11:50 and were down nine points with 1:13 to go. The lead was just 10 with the ball after Mazzulla went 1-for-2 at the free throw line on the next possession. Seton Hall missed a jumper and John Flowers made two free throws to end the suspense, but not the regret.
The Mountaineers shot 8-for-27 in the second half. They were 1-for-10 from the floor and 2-for-5 at the free-throw line with six turnovers in the rut before Mazzulla's free throw.
"I don't know why we do it and I can't explain it," Huggins said. "We took bad shots and we took shots out of character for what this team has to do to be good."
And yet the Mountaineers are in a tie for second pace in the Big East with No. 12 Villanova, No. 8 Notre Dame and No. 15 Louisville. WVU plays Villanova at noon Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center. The Mountaineers host No. 4 Pitt two days later.
"That's not how we want to finish a game," forward Kevin Jones said. "We weren't playing the right way the last few minutes and that's why coach was so upset. We were obviously in a great position to win the game, but he was thinking about the games coming up and the great teams we're about to play. We definitely can't do that against those teams."
WVU won the seventh straight in the series and sixth straight against Seton Hall at the Coliseum. Jones had his fourth double-double of the season with 13 points and 12 rebounds and in the first half became the 47th player in school history to surpass 1,000 career points.
Jones totaled 16 points and 16 rebounds the previous two games as defenses gave to him some of the attention that would normally go to Mitchell.
"I don't think I needed this, but it was good for me, I guess, just to get a feel for scoring a little bit more again," he said. "It was good for my confidence - and I'm not saying my confidence ever went down. My teammates have done a good job stepping up for me and I was never down, never worried about my points. As long as the team wins, the team's success is more important than my success."
Mazzulla, who scored 18 and 16 points the previous two games, finished with four points, 10 rebounds and five assists.
Flowers had 10 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots. Deniz Kilicli added 10 points and seven rebounds off the bench. Cam Thoroughman had 10 points, four rebounds and two assists. It's the first time in 105 career games he'd scored in double figures.
Thoroughman was 5-for-7 and made three jump shots.
"I've been telling him to shoot it if he's open," Huggins said. "When they stand a guy in front of the goal and don't guard him from 10 feet, he's got to shoot it in. Cam's capable of shooting it in."
The Pirates scored the fewest points by a WVU opponent in Big East play. The 29.5 percent shooting was the third lowest against a Huggins team at WVU - and the other two were in the second and fifth games of his first season.
Seton Hall was 6-for-26 in the first half and 12-for-35 in the second half and missed 17 of 19 3-point attempts.
Eight days earlier, the Pirates scored 90 points in a 22-point win at Syracuse. Wednesday four players combined to shoot a handful of air balls in the first half on layups and jumpers. It got to be so bad that the guys who couldn't hit the rim with a shot hit the rim with a pass that was supposed to be an alley-oop, but instead led to a turnover, a fast break for WVU and a Jonnie West 3-pointer.
"We knew we were going to struggle to score," Coach Kevin Willard said, "but I didn't think we were going to struggle that much."
Hazell, who was averaging 19.1 points per game, was 1-for-8 and missed all six of his 3-point attempts, mostly against Flowers. He scored nine points to lead the Pirates.
"He missed shots," Flowers said. "I contested some shots and tried to make him drive a lot and he got frustrated and took some bad shots. But that's what Hazell does. He takes bad shots, but he makes them. That's what he's been known to do and he scares me because of that."