WVU basketball: Bryant lifts Mountaineers in overtime
PROVIDENCE, R.I. - There was a time Sunday afternoon when West Virginia's Deniz Kilicli looked at the scoreboard, saw his team trailing on the road by 15 points against Providence and figured this three-game losing streak would turn into an 11-game skid.
"We're done," he thought.
"We're going down and we're going to lose every game now."
Two hours later, Truck Bryant stood outside the victorious WVU locker room, well aware his 3-pointer with 3.3 seconds left in overtime won the game, 87-84, but also did so much more for the Mountaineers.
He held the index finger on his left hand centimeters away from his thumb.
"This close," he said. "We were real close to the end today."
Bryant scored 24 of his 32 points after halftime and the Mountaineers (16-8, 6-5 Big East) ended the longest losing streak in six years before a crowd of 8,122 at the Dunkin' Donuts Center. WVU went 36 minutes, 5 seconds between leads, erased a 32-15 deficit and won despite one of the more uncharacteristic games of the season from senior Kevin Jones.
"If we didn't win this, we'd be playing in the NIT," Kilicli said. "If we don't win another four games, we're going to the NIT."
Bryant erupted from a shooting and scoring slump and made 11 of 22 shots and 5 of 12 3-point attempts. He had more points after halftime than he had in any of the previous seven games -14, 12, 16, 6, 22, 18 and 8 - and picked the best spots to have his best moments, none more significant than the one at the end.
Down 84-83, Providence's Gerard Coleman was fouled trying to score on a rebound. Coleman, a 66.7-percent free-throw shooter who was 11-for-14 in the game up to that point, went 1-for-2. He made the second and WVU was able to organize before Bryant dribbled toward the 3-point line
"It was a flat screen Deniz was supposed to set for me, but Deniz is so big he wound up putting my guy behind him," Bryant said.
"He's telling me to shoot it. You know me, I was going to shoot it anyway."
Vincent Council missed to the left on his 3 at the buzzer. He missed what would have been a game-winner at the end of regulation after Bryant tied the score on a tricky layup with 4 seconds to go.
"I had all the bounces go my way," Bryant said.
Kilicli added a career-high 22 points and six rebounds on 9-for-15 shooting and sparked WVU's first-half rally. Jones was 8-for-19 and managed his ninth consecutive 20-point game, the school's longest streak since Wil Robinson had nine straight in 1972. It's believed the school record of 10 straight games is shared by Rod Hundley and Jerry West.
Jones missed 5 of 6 3-point attempts and had just five rebounds - fewer than half his average.
"That's as bad as K.J. has played since probably the Mississippi State game (5-for-14 shooting, 13 points, two rebounds on Dec. 3)," Coach Bob Huggins said. "He just didn't play very well, but I think that tells you how much he means to us and what a competitor and what a great kid he is. I mean, he really played bad and got 20 points."
The other six Mountaineers who played combined for 13 points on 4-for-12 shooting. Gary Browne had five points, nine rebounds and six assists in a career-high 36 minutes.
The Friars (13-11, 2-9) were led by Coleman's career-high 30 points. The left-handed sophomore repeatedly went to the right to score against WVU.
"It was weird," Bryant said. "The scouting report said to take away his left and make him go right. We took away his left and he went right and scored."
Coleman had two critical 1-for-2 trips to the foul line that hurt Providence, one with his team ahead 75-74 with 12 seconds left in regulation and then the one before Bryant's game-winner.
LaDontae Henton made five 3s and scored 17 points. Council had 16 points and nine assists and Bryce Cotton added 15 points. The Friars shot 50.9 percent, just the 25th time in 167 games a team has made at least half of its shots against WVU under Huggins.
That said, they started 14-for-16 and then finished 14-for-39.
The Mountaineers were staring at a fourth straight loss and then who knows what for the postseason early in the first half. The Friars hit 10 straight shots and were up 32-17 with 14 points in the paint and four fastbreak layups, plus three 3s from Henton.
"I just didn't think we had as much bounce as I thought we would have," Huggins said. "We may have been tight. We're honest with them. We've always been honest with them.
"I'd rather have people say, 'We'll, you're putting pressure on them,' then to have them come up to me when the season is over and say, 'Man, I wish you'd told us how important that was. I would have prepared better and played better.' "
Huggins called his second timeout of the half and WVU rallied. Kilicli had three baskets and seven points and Aaron Brown and Bryant made 3s to get as close as 39-36 with 20 seconds to go in the half. It was a 19-7 run with Kilicli, Bryant and Jones scoring 16 points. WVU allowed only four points in the paint and no fastbreak points.
Providence had missed five straight shots and 8 of 10 since taking the 15-point lead, but added a little distance when Cotton ended the half with his second 3.
Huggins said WVU switched to a match-up zone to get back into the game.
"Well, it's really hard for people to figure out because we don't know what the hell we're doing," he said.
Bryant warmed up at the end of the first half and at one point in the second half had made six straight shots. He started with a 3 at the end of the first half and then two more to start the second half. He would have had four in a row, but his toes were on the 3-point line as he shot and scored to make it 49-44.
Bryant then faked on the perimeter as defenders ran out to him and dribbled inside to hit a floater. He had a three-point play on the next possession to make it 53-51 and had the ball in his hands after a defensive stop, but missed a deep 3.
"Heat check," he said. "And it checked me. It was too far."
The Friars were up 70-63 later in the half, but Bryant was fouled and made two free throws and then sneaked up on Bilal Dixon, who had his back to Bryant, and stole the ball and dunked it on the other end. WVU was suddenly within just three points and then even closer when Kilicli scored inside.
He finally tied the score for WVU at 72 with 1:41 remaining when he scored after Bryant missed a 3.
Coleman made a jumper and Council went 1-for-2 at the free-throw line before Jones scored on an offensive rebound. Coleman went 1-for-2 before Bryant forced overtime with his layup.
Kilicli's score 15 seconds into overtime gave the Mountaineers their first lead since 7-6 at the 15:50 mark of the first half.
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.