You can go to a lot of basketball games before you get to see a happy ending like 15,032 fans at the West Virginia University Coliseum did last Saturday. The oft-maligned Casey Mitchell hit a pair of three point shots with 17.3 and 8.1 seconds left in the game to allow West Virginia to overcome a 69-64 deficit in the final seconds and post an improbable 72-70 win.
Of course Mitchell’s heroics were critical, but if not for a foul called on Louisville’s Preston Knowles that sent WVU guard Truck Bryant to the line with .6 left on the clock, the game would have been sent to overtime. Mitchell’s second three tied the game at 70. Knowles came down and launched a game-winning attempt from about 25 feet. The ball bounded off the rim toward the left sideline and the Louisville bench. Bryant tracked down the rebound for WVU, but Knowles, who was following his miss, collided with Bryant and was whistled for the foul.
The partisan crowd roared with approval. Knowles was distraught. Cardinals Coach Rick Pitino was animated, but from this writer’s vantage point it was hard to tell exactly what he was doing. At one time he seemed to be consoling Knowles and at other times he seemed to be questioning the call. All things considered. Pitino did not seem to be on the officials that much, but it was truly a crazy time. Pitino refused to address the media following the game.
A few comments about the foul call from one person’s perspective. First, there is little doubt Knowles fouled Bryant. Second, it is rare you will see an official make a foul call with less than a second on the clock, especially when it can impact the game as much as this one did. I’m not sure what the official on the play was thinking when he chose to make the call instead of swallowing his whistle, but two things stand out.
First, it was a pretty hard foul, a foul Knowles should definitely have avoided. Second, and probably the reason the whistle was blown, is that the contact forced Bryant to lose the ball out of bounds. With no foul called on the play, the ball would belong to Louisville in front of their basket and there is no way that call can happen. Bryant then goes to the line for a pair of foul shots and makes both even though he tried to miss the second one.
While Mitchell and Bryant provided the late game heroics, it was a pair of forwards that kept the Mountaineers around. Kevin Jones, who was a pre-season All Big East first team selection, had 25 points and 16 rebounds in what was easily his best game of the season. Not that Jones had a bad year, he did receive All Big East honorable mention, but the Louisville performance was more like the Kevin Jones coaches and fans expected to see more of this season. Perhaps he is gearing up for a strong post season.
Jones didn’t have the only strong performance though. Try John Flowers with 12 points, 12 rebounds and six blocked shots. The Big East is handing out awards this week and Flowers appears primed for a snub. He did not appear on any of the three all conference teams, nor did he receive honorable mention. So, that is 22 players someone feels had a better season than Flowers who led the league in blocked shots. He should be a prime candidate for defensive player of the year, so we shall see. In any event, WVU was 2-22 from beyond the arc until Mitchell hit his threes, so it isn’t hard to figure out how big Jones’ and Flowers’ combined 37 points and 28 rebounds were in keeping the game within reach.
Did I mention Flowers had six blocked shots?
That win, coupled with the Wednesday win over Connecticut, earned West Virginia the sixth seed in this week’s Big East Tournament which will keep them in the late time slot for as long as they keep winning. The Mountaineers will open tournament play Wednesday night at 9 p.m. against the winner of Tuesday’s Providence-Marquette game. A win on Wednesday will send the Mountaineers right back into action against Louisville again in Thursday’s nightcap. Think the Cardinals want another shot at the Mountaineers? Keep in mind that the games listed 9 p.m. starts are actually going to be 20 minutes after the preceding game. It will be rare for a nightcap to begin on time.
Now, at 20-10 overall, it is no longer if West Virginia makes the NCAA field, but where they will be seeded. Most bracketologists on Monday had them either a five or six seed. They won’t likely fall below a six, but a pair of wins this week will have them in the hunt for a four. Sunday should be interesting.