The Mountaineers failed to play solid defense, didn’t attack the rim, committed 17 turnovers and generally operated in a lackadaisical haze – yet still, somehow, secured head coach Bob Huggins’ 700th career victory with a 70-68 overtime win in the Las Vegas Classic.
“I wish it was a little prettier than it was,” Huggins said.
It couldn’t have been much uglier. Missouri State matched the mountain of miscues, blowing a 10-point second half lead – including a five-point edge inside a minute in regulation – then missed a wide open lay-up to tie as WVU escaped with its second win in as many overtime games this season.
The Mountaineers (9-2) appeared beaten several times, the last with a minute left in regulation. An errant Truck Bryant pass from the top of the key was stolen and ironically converted into a lay-up by Nathan Scheer, who would later miss from point blank range on the game’s final play. That 63-58 Missouri State edge, seemingly safe, was quickly snuffed out by perhaps the most unlikely of players in Gary Browne. The freshman hit a lay-in to get within 63-60, then drilled a desperation three with 1.6 seconds left to send the game to overtime after the Bears ran clock and failed to score.
He also gave West Virginia its first lead since the opening half at 67-65 with three minutes left in overtime. From there, the teams jostled for the final two of the game’s dozen lead changes, with Bryant giving WVU its final margin advantage with a free throw. MSU had 22 seconds, but could muster only a missed three and, after a timeout, Scheer’s misfire off an open-lane drive right to the bucket. The ball bounced off the back and front iron and fell off. The Mountaineers rejoiced, the Bears slumped, and Huggins merely shrugged and went to shake first-year head coach Paul Lusk’s hand.
“You don’t win, you’re going to get fired,” said Huggins, who celebrated with players sporting T-shirts with the coach's image and the number 700. “I’m happy with that (part).”
But that was about it. West Virginia helped Missouri State shoot 54 percent, including 44.4 percent from three. It routinely failed to cut off initial penetration, allowing MSU to kick out for open threes. It didn’t handle the ball screen or cut in the motion sets on offense, and seemed particularly uninterested in pressuring the rim, instead settling for 17-foot jumpers as the Bears packed in their man look.
Even Browne’s lone three, the one that forced overtime, served more as a microcosm of the game than a display of quality play. The guard actually lost the handle inside six seconds, then scrambled to regain possession before hoisting the prayer from the wing. The ball swished through, Browne mimicking West Virginia by doing very little right, but coming out a winner.
“We were getting backed up too much,” Huggins said. “They jammed everything down there in the lane. They weren’t going to guard out. … (On defense,) the truth is they don’t shoot the ball this well that much. You watch film and it doesn’t happen. But that seems to happen to us.”
West Virginia did finish with edges in rebounding (37-25), with 16 offensive for a 16-2 advantage in second-chance points. WVU also doubled up Missouri State with eight made free throws to four as the Bears missed a couple key foul shots down the stretch. Kevin Jones finished with a 16 points and 13 rebounds for his 19th career double-double and Bryant added 15 points largely on the strength of four three-pointers. He also had five rebounds and four assists. Aaron Brown came off the bench to score 14 points, with Browne adding 13.
“We had some good things,” said Huggins, the 20th Division I coach to 700 wins. “Truck made a couple huge threes for us. Aaron Brown made huge shots for us. Gary guarded the ball, especially in the second half. You gotta put guys on the floor who can score.”
Caleb Patterson scored a game-high 18 points for Missouri State (7-4). Kyle Weems had 15. The former keyed an 11-3 burst for MSU’s biggest lead of the game at 55-45 with 8:40 left. That came after a back-and-forth first half that ended with the score tied at 32-32.
The Bears made four threes in the first five-plus minutes – all from different players – to lead 14-11. WVU responded with a 10-0 run spurred by increased on-ball pressure and solid inside-out play on offense. There were 10 lead changes and three ties in the opening period. MSU shot 52 percent from the field, 46.2 (six of 13) from three. WVU missed 10 of its first 14 threes and had 10 turnovers by the half.
The Mountaineers now play No. 6 Baylor on Friday at 9 p.m. EST/6 p.m. PST.