Casey Mitchell recorded his best shooting night since returning from his second suspension of the year, but it wasn't nearly enough to overcome a hideous display in other aspects of the game as the Mountaineers bumbled away a chance to move up in the Big East conference standings.
Mitchell finished 8-14 from the field, including 7-12 from 3-point range to help keep WVU in the game. Three of those came in the first half, and paired with four others from Truck Bryant, John Flowers and Dalton Pepper, staked the Mountaineers to a 30-26 lead at the half.
In the second half, Mitchell continued his excellent shooting, and that was all that kept the game from becoming a blowout. Mitchell hit a pair of threes to halt Syracuse runs and made another to cut the Orange lead to two at 44-42, but that was as close as the Mountaineers would get in the final 20 minutes.
Mitchell had four rebounds but also turned the ball over five times.
Time and again on fast breaks, WVU allowed opposing ballhandlers to drive into the lane -- sometimes all the way to the basket. That gave Syracuse a number of open and uncontested looks at the hoop, and they were quick to take advantage of them. Syracuse scored 19 points on fast break chances, as opposed to none for the Mountaineers.
Head coach Bob Huggins termed his team's second half defense "the worst ever" in his head coaching career, and it would be hard to argue with him. Over the last four games, WVU has allowed guards to penetrate with the ball and frontcourt foes to dominate on the boards. Unless the Mountaineers can figure out a way to turn up the defensive intensity in the second half, losses are going to continue to mount.
A complete list of the mental and physical errors committed by the Mountaineers in the game would add several pages to the official stat book, and unfortunately, these are the items that really made the difference in this game, not to mention several other losses this year. WVU can't shoot, and knows it can't shoot, but it can overcome that. It can overcome a lack of natural athletic ability. But it simply cannot overcome repetitive poor decisions, turnovers, and a lack of basketball IQ. That was again in evidence in the loss to Syracuse, and if it continues, it will be the reason the Mountaineers miss a trip to the NCAA tournament.