West Virginia forced overtime with a Gary Browne 3-pointer with 11.3 seconds left (on a play that wasn’t designed for the freshman to score), then never trailed in the extra session, sending the first sellout crowd of the season at the Coliseum into a frenzy with a 77-74 win over Cincinnati.
The 14,070 in attendance were treated to a show. The game featured 12 lead changes and three ties.
But most of that was just a prelude to the frenetic final few seconds of regulation. On a play that Browne later admitted was supposed to see the ball worked to one of the team’s veterans, the guard saw Cincinnati defenders at every turn.
“Mick worked for me for 10 years,” coach Bob Huggins said, referring to UC coach Mick Cronin. “So he had a pretty good idea from our alignment. He knew what was coming.”
As a last resort, teammate Deniz Kilicli came out high and set a screen for Browne. It was an effective one, Huggins opined later. It would be tough to argue his point, as Browne came out of the screen wide open -- so open he hesitated before launching his 3-pointer.
“They were so worried about denying them the ball that they left me open,” Browne said. “It was time to step up.”
It swished through, bringing the volume level inside the arena to mind-numbing levels. Huggins quickly called timeout to set his defense: a surprise full-court man-to-man look. It was promptly shredded by UC, but the Bearcats’ Dion Dixon missed a decent look well short.
WVU’s Keaton Miles corralled the rebound and saw teammate Truck Bryant streaking down court. Bryant tried to dribble quickly to set up a chance at a game-winner, but lost the ball, setting off a scrum near midcourt.
Player of the Game
The Mountaineers’ Kevin Jones appeared to signal for a timeout before what was ultimately ruled a jump ball -- but thankfully for West Virginia, referees didn’t award it, as Jones’ team was out of timeouts and the Cincinnati would have had a chance to shoot free throws after the ensuing technical foul.
“I’m very fortunate,” Jones admitted. “It was so loud and everything was happening so quick, and that’s the first thing that comes to mind when the ball is on the ground like that. I’m glad that didn’t happen.”
Complicating the matter further, the clock stopped as the scrum ensued, long before officials whistled for the jump ball. They consulted the monitor, used a stopwatch to discern how much time would have run off the clock, and ruled it was 2.5 seconds -- more than the 2.1 that was left when the clock was erroneously stopped. Thus, the game was sent to overtime.
Once there, WVU (15-5, 5-2) took control. It scored the first four points of the extra frame (all on free throws), then survived late. The Bearcats had the ball down by one with about 1:30 left in overtime, but Browne stole an inbounds pass and found Jabarie Hinds for a fastbreak layup and the decisive points.
In a sign of just how frazzled Cincinnati was by the end, Hinds went to the free throw line with less than a second remaining for a one-and-one. He missed the first, but UC players casually touched the ball, not realizing WVU wasn’t in the double bonus. Officials didn’t realize it either at first, but conferred and ended the game.
Jones was nothing short of magnificent yet again. He scored 26 points on 11-of-15 shooting from the field to go along with 13 rebounds and two assists. He didn’t commit a single turnover.
“If he keeps getting 26 and 13, he ought to be national player of the year,” Huggins said.
“He makes shots,” Cronin agreed. “That’s why he’s Big East player of the year. No question.”
That was barely enough to overcome a miserable day from Bryant, who finished 2-of-16 from the field (missing all eight of his 3-point tries) for six points. But the Mountaineers got help from Deniz Kilicli -- back in the starting lineup after missing Wednesday’s win over Marshall due to injury -- who had 13 points, five assists and seven boards. Browne had 13 points and nine rebounds.
UC’s Cashmere Wright scored 17 points. Dion Dixon had 12 points and nine assists, while Yancy Gates finished with 10 points and 13 boards.
With the win, West Virginia pulled its way into a tie for second place in the Big East -- an outcome that would have seemed unlikely when the season started and Huggins was tasked with pulling together a squad with three veterans and seven freshmen.
“If you don’t play anybody in the preseason schedule and you get to a game like this, and it’s the first time, guys have a tendency to panic,” Huggins, who repeatedly said he “didn’t know” how good this team would be, explained. “We’ve been in a bunch of these. It helps you.”