WVU shot only 22.2 percent from the field (6-of-27) after halftime and endured a stretch of almost nine and a half minutes without a field goal in what was ultimately a 67-61 win for No. 11 seed Marquette on Wednesday night in the second round of the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden.
The Golden Eagles rallied from a 10-point deficit in the second half, using offense from their bench players Junior Cadougan and Davante Gardner to climb back within striking distance. A 13-4 run, which started with seven straight points from the guard Cadougan, tied the game at 48-48.
The Mountaineers’ Casey Mitchell promptly responded, hitting an open 3-pointer to give his team the lead once more with 11:08 to play. But that would be West Virginia’s last field goal until forward John Flowers scored on a reverse layup with 1:44 left to bring his team back within 61-57.
Indeed, Flowers’ basket was WVU’s first score from 2-point range since he converted a short pull-up a little over a minute into the second half to give his team a nine-point lead. Flowers was the only Mountaineer to make a shot inside the arc in the final 20 minutes, and his team endured a drought of 16:54 without a 2-pointer.
“It’s been a year-long problem,” said Mountaineer head coach Bob Huggins. “We just don’t make open shots. I don’t know what to tell you. I’ve said it and said it and said it. We just don’t make open shots.”
West Virginia (20-11) would draw back within three points after point guard Truck Bryant made a pair of free throws to make it 64-61 with 31.5 seconds left.
Bryant then stole the ensuing inbound pass, but rushed an off-balance leaner that didn’t go in. Marquette collected the rebound and Cadougan made a pair of free throws after being fouled to put the game away.
The Golden Eagles’ head coach Buzz Williams certainly made good use of his substitutes in the second half. WVU’s bench outperformed its opposition 10-4 in the first half. But in the final 20 minutes, Marquette (20-13) flipped the script, as its reserves scored 28 points to the Mountaineers’ six in that span.
Those back-ups were led by Cadougan, who had 13 of his 15 points in the second half. Gardner, one of the MU big men who surprisingly gave West Virginia trouble, scored eight of his 10 after halftime.
It all went wrong for WVU quickly after a strong conclusion to the first half. The Mountaineers held a 36-29 lead at the break and quickly took a double digit lead to start the second half when Bryant canned a 3-pointer to make it 41-31.
But between their inability to defend Marquette’s quick guards, their struggles to stop the opposition’s post players and their own offensive issues, the Mountaineers quickly squandered that advantage.
When West Virginia wasn’t missing shots, it was busy turning the ball over. It gave possession away 13 times, and MU’s quick guards took advantage, giving their team an 11-0 edge in fast-break points.
But the bench scoring and the fast-break points weren’t what truly broke WVU’s back. Instead, that honor went to Darius Johnson-Odom, the guard who sunk a back-to-back 3-pointers to turn a tied game into a 61-55 lead for his team, setting up the sequence in the final minutes.
“Those two shots, you could argue, changed the game,” said Williams, whose team earned a season sweep of the Mountaineers with the win. “They definitely changed the momentum.”
Huggins went further, saying Johnson-Odom’s shots “won the game.”
Williams respectfully disagreed.
“D.J.’s shots were big,” he said, “But the reason we won the game was because we guarded in the second half.”
The Golden Eagles all but assured themselves an at-large bid in the upcoming NCAA Tournament with the win. Before that happens though, they will face No. 3 seed Louisville in the Big East quarterfinals Thursday night.
For West Virginia, Kevin Jones played all 40 minutes, scoring 15 points and grabbing five rebounds. Flowers added 11 points in only 21 minutes -- he sat out most of the first half after picking up two quick fouls. Bryant added 10.
Flowers, however, was the only Mountaineer to make more than one field goal in the second half. He scored all three of WVU’s 2-point baskets after the intermission.
“We played well in the first half,” Huggins said. “Shoot 22 percent in the second half, and you’re not going to win. You’re not going to win in this league doing that.”
“We don’t have people who can drive it to the basket. That’s not the kind of guys we have, you know, so we have to depend on making some shots.”
The Mountaineers’ defeat marked the third time in as many years that the defending Big East champion has been knocked out of the league tournament in its first game.
WVU will have plenty of time to let the loss simmer. On Sunday, it will find out where, when and who it will play in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, a game which will come no sooner than March 17.