It was a significant win for Huggins’ team, which moved to 2-2 in Big East Conference play after starting 0-2. Georgetown, on the other hand, fell to 1-3 in the league and might fall out of the national rankings after a rough week that also included a loss to St. John’s.
Beyond that, it was an important resume-building win for a team that could find itself fighting to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament in March.
“We needed a good win, and this is a good win,” said Huggins, showing the sort of satisfaction that has been rare for him thus far this season. “When you stop and look, you beat Georgetown at Georgetown, I mean, that’s better than beating Georgetown at home. So that’s a good win for us.”
It might not have been as pretty to watch as the two teams’ thrilling match-up in the Big East Conference championship game last March at Madison Square Garden in New York, but it was every bit as exciting.
Neither team could forge a lead of more than three points from the time the Hoyas’ Markel Starks made a 3-pointer to make it 43-42 in WVU’s favor until Joe Mazzulla canned a pair of free throws to give the Mountaineers a 58-54 lead -- a span of 7:39 that lasted until there was only 4:34 left in the contest.
West Virginia had a six-point lead at 62-56 after Kevin Jones hit a baseline jumper with 3:05 to play, but Georgetown’s Jason Clark promptly answered with an aggressive drive to the rim for a layup while being fouled by John Flowers. Clark added the bonus free throw to make it 62-59.
A couple of empty possessions ensued, and the hosts had a chance to tie the game or draw within a point before Clark dribbled the ball away on another drive with around 36 seconds to go. The Hoyas were forced to foul Truck Bryant, and the Mountaineer point guard made one of his two free throws to make it 63-59.
Georgetown coach John Thompson III called timeout with 21 seconds left to set up a play, but it never got a chance to develop.
After Austin Freeman tossed a pass to a curling Clark, Clark attempted to throw it back to the preseason Big East player of the year. But WVU’s Cam Thoroughman anticipated the pass and got his body in the way, forcing it loose.
Clark recovered by diving onto the floor for the ball, where he again tried to pass to Freeman. But the pass was far too low for Freeman to control, and it bounced out of bounds, giving West Virginia possession with 11 seconds left.
Thompson was furious no foul was called on Thoroughman for the initial bump, but it appeared to be a clean play. Bryant was again sent to the line and made two free throws to make it 65-59, and the outcome was sealed.
The late Georgetown giveaways were indicative of the way the whole game went, as the Hoyas’ own errors and the Mountaineer defense combined to lead to 18 turnovers for Thompson’s squad.
That was a big reason for West Virginia’s win, as the visitors attempted several more field goals and 13 more free throws (24-11) than GU.
“We’re putting more pressure on the rim,” Huggins told the Mountaineer Sports Network afterwards. “When we get to the foul line, we put pressure on the rim. Joe [Mazzulla] put some pressure on the rim. K.J. rebounded the ball. That was kind of what we won with [last year].
“If you look, the reason we were leading at halftime is very simple ... at the end of the game, the reason we win the game, we shoot 52 times and they shoot 44. We shoot 24 free throws, and they shoot 11. We had so many more possessions.”
The first half was a battle of two teams that alternately showed flashes of brilliant play, only to follow them up with periods of struggle -- largely the reason both had struggled to 1-2 starts in Big East play.
West Virginia (10-4, 2-2) raced out to an early 12-7 lead on the strength of eight quick points from Casey Mitchell, including a pair of 3-pointers. But as soon as the jump shots stopped falling, the Mountaineer offense, as per usual, slowed down.
The Hoyas followed with a 12-1 run to take control at 19-13, confounding WVU with a full-court pressure defense that led to multiple easy baskets.
Hollis Thompson stole the ball near mid-court on one possession, quickly raced back downcourt and put in an almost uncontested layup. Shortly after, a trap near the half-court stripe caused a bad pass, which Georgetown intercepted, turned into a fast-break and ended with a slam dunk from Nate Lubick to give the hosts the lead.
It didn’t help that the Mountaineers were also in the midst of a spell of futility on offense that ultimately spanned a period of 7:36 without a field goal. That ended with a baseline jumper from Jones, which started a quick 6-0 spurt to tie the game at 21-21.
Another five straight points to end the period (though it should have been six, as replays showed a shot from Mitchell that was ruled a long 2-pointer should have been called a three) gave Huggins’ squad a 29-25 lead at the break.
Mitchell led the way offensively, scoring a game-high 28 points. Jones added 15 points and seven rebounds, and Bryant added nine points. No other Mountaineer scored more than five.
“He was active,” Huggins said of Mitchell. “I wore him out yesterday because he just didn’t make hard cuts, he didn’t set people up, he just didn’t do the things good players do. I thought today, he really wanted the ball. I thought he did a better job using screens. His cuts were so much harder. And he played a lot of minutes .”
For Georgetown (12-4, 1-3) Clark had 16 points. Freeman added 11 despite not scoring at all in the first 25:10 of the game, when Flowers locked down on the Hoyas’ star guard.
After playing three of its first four Big East games on the road, West Virginia will return to the Coliseum to face Providence on Thursday night.
The Friars will face a team that finally showed its head coach some signs of improvement in critical areas on Saturday.
“That is, without question, the best we’ve team defended all year,” Huggins said, satisfied. “I thought it was the best we’ve shared the ball. Our execution, I thought, was a whole lot better other than the start of the second half.”