John Flowers scored 13 of West Virginia's first 22 points to keep the Mountaineers in the game against Villanova and earn player of the game honors in West Virginia's 66-50 loss to the Wildcats.
Flowers hit a pair of 3-pointers in the first half and had 10 of the Mountaineers' season-low 19 at the break, but that was barely enough to keep them in contact with the Wildcats, who rode a late-half spurt that pushed them out to an 11-point halftime lead. In the second half, Flowers drained another three right off the bat and later scored on a nice bank shot off an in-bound play to cut Nova's lead to three, but that was as close as West Virginia would get.
Although he didn't play with his usual bounce, Flowers did add a pair of blocks to his league-leading average, and made bout of his free throws on an afternoon when his teammates clanked more than Iron Man. He finished the game with 15 in 39 minutes of action. He was also effective defensively, guarding three different Villanova scorers over the course of the contest.
In all, there wasn't much to pick from in selecting a standout performer. Kevin Jones, statistically, had a solid game, but past that it was pretty much a bad game all the way around for the Mountaineers. With little defensive rebounding, characteristic poor shooting (just six field goals in the opening half) and a season-low 50 points, good performances were as rare as snake legs.
Another massive West Virginia field goal drought was the key factor in the first half, and a similar, if less lengthy one, closed out any hopes of a Mountaineer rally in the second. In the opening half, Truck Bryant hit a three in transition to give his team a 10-4 advantage at the 15:19 mark, but it would be another nine minutes and 24 seconds before WVU would make another shot from the field. To make matters worse, it only scored two points in the interim on a pair of Cam Thoroughman free throws, and emerged from the stretch trailing by four. Although Villanova only managed to score 14 points of its own during that time, it seemed to be energized by WVU's misfired, and promptly added to its advantage with a 12-5 run to give it an 11-point advantage at the break.
The Mountaineers appeared to have overcome that massive drought, and in the second half had cut the lead to five at the 11:29 mark, but then the lid went back on the hoop. West Virginia played the next 5:22 without a point, and by the time Jones scored in the lane to break it up, the Mountaineers trailed by 12. Put them together, and that's a total of 14:46 in which West Virginia scored just two points. Not many teams in the country, no matter how good defensively, are going to overcome such brutal stretches.
Joe Mazzulla doesn't have to score a ton for WVU to be successful, but if he goes without a point and isn't a threat offensively, the Mountaineers are going to struggle on offense. Mazzulla missed a couple of open jumpers in the first half and didn't get calls he was looking for on three drives to the hoop at various points in the game, and as a result he failed to dent the scoring column. Villanova did a good job of crowding Mazzulla on the perimeter and cutting down on his opportunities to penetrate and get to the basket, and that also was a big factor in eliminating him as a scoring threat.
To his credit, Mazzulla didn't force up shots or try to make things happen that weren't there. He dished out seven assists and attempted to get the offense running more smoothly, but the simple fact is that West Virginia's offense has become dependent on his drives and scores to generate any sort of rhythm on offense. While WVU did get good shots, its failure to knock them down kept it from mounting any serious challenge for the win.
Statistics can often paint a skewed picture of a game, but the numbers told a pretty honest story in this one. WVU shot 35.8% from the field, while Villanova hit 54.3%. Despite attempting seven fewer shots than WVU from the floor, the Wildcats outscored them by 12 from the field. The woes continued at the free throw line, where West Virginia was an abysmal 5-12 and were outscored by four.
“Eighth graders shoot the ball better,” Huggins remarked with acidity after the game.
West Virginia can overcome less than stellar shooting, but it can't do so when it allows its opponent to shoot so well, and to outrebound it as well.