With a crowd of 15,032 screaming wildly, Bryant -- the same junior guard who missed several free throws in the final minutes that could have secured a win over the Cardinals in January -- stepped to the line and made the first of his two foul shots.
He was told to miss the second by head coach Bob Huggins, but the line drive still got over the rim and fell through. It didn’t matter, as a desperate shot at the end from U of L wasn’t close, and one of the wildest comebacks in the 40-year history of the Coliseum was complete.
It was Knowles’ bone-headed decision to foul that drew much of the attention in the aftermath. Louisville’s senior guard certainly helped the Mountaineers’ cause, as he sprinted 15 feet to hack Bryant after missing a running 3-pointer in the waning moments.
It wasn’t clear if Knowles thought his team was behind, but the guard put his hands on his heads in disbelief after the foul was whistled about 90 feet away from the basket.
But the only reason Knowles even had a chance to bungle the ending for his team was because of some clutch shooting from WVU guard Casey Mitchell, who made two 3-pointers in a span of 10 seconds.
The first came with his team trailing 69-64. He buried the shot from along the baseline to make it a two-point game with 18 seconds to play.
West Virginia (20-10, 11-7) had to foul, and senior guard Joe Mazzulla committed his fifth personal, fouling Peyton Siva, the hero of U of L’s last-second win over the Mountaineers at the KFC Yum! Center earlier this season.
But Siva only made one of his two foul shots (one of 10 missed free throws from Louisville players on Saturday), giving Mitchell another chance. The guard, who played only 16 minutes on his Senior Day and was struggling until the final minute, buried another long trifecta with 8.1 seconds left, tying the score at 70-70.
Neither team had a timeout, and Knowles sprinted up floor, trying to win the game. His first mistake was shooting far too quickly -- he settled for a running 3-pointer with more than three seconds left on the clock. But his greater sin was running toward Bryant after WVU’s guard corralled the loose ball and fouling him just in front of his coach, Rick Pitino.
Pitino, miffed with the outcome, did not speak to the media afterwards. He sent out his director of basketball operations, Ralph Willard, to handle that chore. It is the second-consecutive year Pitino has refused to talk to reporters after a loss at the Coliseum.
“What lost us the game was not guarding the 3 in the last two possessions,” Willard said. “We needed to guard the 3. It was a point of business coming out of the huddle, and unfortunately, we let the kid [Mitchell] get two really good looks. They were both looks he never should have gotten.”
But one could hardly blame the Cardinals for failing to take Mitchell seriously at that point, as the Mountaineer senior was a paltry 1-of-6 from the field entering the final 20 seconds of play.
As seniors are apt to do, though, the shooting guard made the shots when it mattered most.
“I said if I got back in the game, I had to hit some shots, man,” Mitchell said. “I had to hit some shots to help us win. I didn’t want to go out like that to end my senior year.
“I just wanted a good memory for my last game, and that was a great one. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to go out.”
“It seems like every time we play Rick, it’s something like this,” said Huggins, whose Cincinnati teams battled Pitino’s Cardinals often in Conference USA. “They’ve banked a couple in to beat us. They told me when I got in the business it all evens out. I think he still owes me a couple.”
A heroic performance from WVU’s Kevin Jones was almost lost in the wild finish. The junior forward all but stole the show on Senior Day, scoring a career-high 25 points and grabbing a career-high 16 rebounds.
“Kevin was terrific,” Huggins said. “He rebounded the basketball. He has had a lot of really good rebounding games, but that was special. He kept us in the game.
“He played really hard. He never asks to come out, but he asked out today.”
Jones was the reason the Mountaineers led much of the way and was the ringleader of one of the all-time dominant rebounding performances from a West Virginia team. The hosts grabbed 49 boards to U of L’s 25. WVU had as many offensive rebounds (25) as the Cards had overall rebounds.
That led to a 22-4 advantage in second-chance points. That statistic, and the Mountaineers’ near-perfect performance from the foul line -- only Mazzulla (5-of-8) missed a free throw and the team finished 26-of-29 overall -- was key to the outcome.
“We have to just be tougher than that,” Willard said. “Let’s be honest: the only games we haven’t played well enough to win were the games when we really got hurt on the backboards. That was the difference in the basketball game.
“It comes down to them getting 25 offensive rebounds. That’s just incredible.”
Kyle Kuric nearly shot Louisville (23-8, 12-6) all the way to a win, scoring 21 points on 7-of-9 shooting (including a 5-of-6 performance from 3-point range). Knowles had 15 points, but shot only 5-of-16 from the field and committed the game-deciding mistake by fouling Bryant.
Bryant had 10 points and four assists, while WVU seniors John Flowers (12 points, 12 rebounds) and Mitchell (10 points) also would up in double figures.
West Virginia is all but assured the No. 6 seed in next week’s Big East Conference tournament, but a scenario exists where it could slip to the No. 7 seed.
Regardless, after their third-consecutive win at home against a nationally-ranked opponent, the defending league champions will have a first round bye and will play their first game on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan.