West Virginia (8-4, 0-2) opened the game as if it were still asleep in the team hotel. Marquette raced out to a 9-0 lead, largely on the strength of five early Mountaineer turnovers in the first four minutes of the game. During that stretch, WVU got just two shots away, and only one of those hit the rim. It didn't score until the 16:08 mark, when Kevin Jones finally broke the horrendous opening stretch with a short shot in the lane. From that point on, the Mountaineers slowly clawed their way back into contention. With Jones and Casey Mitchell scoring their first 15 points, WVU cut the Marquette lead to four, only to see it balloon back to 11 at 28-17. From there, WVU turned to Truck Bryant, who returned to the floor after an early stint of poor play to record ten first half points and help the Mountaineers narrow the deficit to three at the half.
Mimicking the St. John's loss earlier in the week, West Virginia was almost totally reliant on the 3-pointer in the opening half. Mitchell (three) Bryant (two) and Jones (one) accounted for 18 of West Virginia's 34 points from beyond the arc, as WVU didn't attack the basket or get into the lane with any regularity. West Virginia failed to get to the free throw line in the opening half, settling for jumpers and perimeter shots for much of the opening period.
As the second half opened, the Mountaineers, again as they did earlier in the week, tried to establish an inside game. This time, it worked well, as sophomore Deniz Kilicli roared to life after an invisible first half. Kilicli scored West Virginia's first six points of the half on the way to 12 in the period and 14 overall, and provided at least a spark of hope that WVU can develop an offense that isn't reliant on firing up shots from long range.
“I told him at the half 'If you don't catch it and score, I'm taking you out,'” head coach Bob Huggins said of what he told Kilicli at the half. To his credit, Kilicli did just that, and made much better decisions with the ball in the post than he did to open the game, when he committed a silly travel on the first possession and tried a jump skip into the lane that resulted in another on the second. That earned him a quick hook, but he was able to bounce back and record one of his best outings of the season.
“Hopefully, the light has started to come on for him,” Huggins observed.
That light extended to the rest of the Mountaineer squad, which finally ran its offense with some semblance of efficiency. Running motion for most of its possessions, mixed in with a few called plays for Jones and Mitchell, West Virginia engaged in a back and forth battle with the Golden Eagles for the entire half. Bryant was a key for most of the period, scoring from both inside and out on the way to a career high 25 points. Teamed with Joe Mazzulla, and, at times, Casey Mitchell, Bryant was able to break free for several scoring opportunities while also playing within the framework of the offense.
Just as it appeared, though, as if WVU had overcome its offensive woes, it collapsed down the stretch with poor execution on both ends of the floor. Leading 74-73, WVU forced a miss by Marquette's Dwight Buycks on a 3-pointer, but failed to block out Chris Otule, whose only job on the offensive end is to hang around the basket. Otule's wide-open rebound and putback dunk gave the Golden Eagles a lead it would not relinquish, although the Mountaineers still had plenty of time to recover, as 1:19 remained on the clock. However, Bryant, reverting to the undisciplined play that has marked his career at West Virginia, forced up a jumper, which missed badly. Marquette rebounded, but also failed to convert at the free throw line, giving the Mountaineers another chance with 47 seconds remaining. WVU called a timeout to set up a play it hadn't practiced much, a “screen the screener” look that has worked well for it in the past, but hasn't seen the light of day this year. The Mountaineers botched the execution of the play, setting a very lazy initial screen that resulted in a logjam on the perimeter. Bryant still tried to force the ball to Mitchell, but Marquette's Jae Crowder jumped the toss and stole it.
“I should have know better than to call that,” Huggins lamented afterward. “We haven't worked on that much, and we have a hard enough time doing things that we work on.”
Surprisingly, WVU still had time to forge a late tie. Marquette missed two of four free throws on ensuing possessions, so West Virginia trailed by just three with 26 seconds to go. What followed, however, was even uglier than the play just 40 seconds earlier. Bryant dribbled the ball on the perimeter for ten seconds before driving into the lane and throwing up a runner with just eight seconds remaining, when a three was definitely called for. The shot missed badly, and Marquette rebounded the ball and made two free throws to account for the final score.
West Virginia was totally unable to contain Crowder, who shot a blazing 12-14 from the field and led all scorers with 29 points.
“We gave Crowder a career,” Huggins noted. “He'll never go 12-14 again. And we had in our scout all week not to let [Darius] Johnson-Odom shoot the ball. We're supposed to be marking him, and we leave him open.”
Johnson-Odom finished with 21 points, including two threes in a 50-second span that gave Marquette (10-4, 1-0) a 71-68 lead with 4:32 to play. The pair did not miss a second half shot attempt from the field until Johnson-Odom misfired on a jumper with 2:37 to play.
For West Virginia, Kevin Jones added 17 points and eight rebounds, while Mitchell finished with 14 points.
WVU didn't get a point from anyone other than Jones or Casey Mitchell until just 6:30 remained in the first half, when Deniz Kilicli converted a stumbling toss in front of the rim.
West Virginia put just five players on the score sheet. John Flowers, Cam Thoroughman, Dan Jennings and Dalton Pepper all failed to dent the scoring column.
After being cut up early in its man-to-man defense, West Virginia switched to a match-up 2-3 zone for much of the contest. Marquette was unable to hurt it from the perimeter for most of the game, but Crowder scored at will, hitting jumpers from the key, bulling into the lane and scoring off rebounds against West Virginia's much less physical front line.
West Virginia will come home before making a return trip to the Midwest on Tuesday for a game against DePaul.