Bryant made a driving layup to tie the game late in regulation and a game-winning 3-pointer with 3.3 seconds left in overtime, ending WVU’s three-game losing streak with an 87-84 win at Providence on Sunday.
It was perhaps the first game all season when the Mountaineers’ three veterans put together strong performances at the same time. Bryant, who scored 32 points, was joined by Deniz Kilicli (a career-high 22) and Kevin Jones (nine straight games with at least 20) in powering the visitors’ effort.
Bryant, mired in a slump for essentially the entire month of January, ended it in a big way. His 32 points were just two off his career-high of 34, set earlier this season in a win over Villanova.
“The biggest positive we can take from this is Truck was dreadful in the first half, and in the past, he would have remained that way,” coach Bob Huggins told the Mountaineer Sports Network. “He came out with a lot of confidence and made shots for us.”
Indeed, West Virginia needed all of the 74 points it got from its three upperclassmen to rally from what was a 15-point deficit early in the first half.
Providence (13-11, 2-9) raced out to a 32-17 lead on the strength of remarkably strong shooting. The Friars could hardly miss early, making 14 of their first 16 shots from the field -- including a perfect 4-of-4 from 3-point range.
While PC didn’t exactly cool off entirely after that (it still was shooting 63 percent from the field at halftime), WVU was able to catch up by taking advantage of opportunities for easy points.
Player of the Game
Kilicli led the effort at the basket, scoring 11 first half points on 4-of-5 shooting. He bettered his season average of 10.5 points per game in the opening 20 minutes alone.
He and his teammates, who came into the game as the Big East’s 14th-ranked team in terms of free throw shooting, surprisingly rallied on the strength of their performance at the foul line, making 10-of-11 (90.9 percent) in the first half.
The Mountaineers (16-8, 6-5) got within as few as three points when Bryant made a 3-pointer from the corner late in the half, but Providence’s Bryce Cotton answered with a trifecta of his own just before the horn to make it 42-36 at halftime.
“I told them in the first half, let’s just get it manageable,” Huggins said. “We get it to six, and that’s with them making a 3 at the end of the half.”
PC built its lead back up to 10 quickly in the second half at 49-39 as Gerard Coleman, a thorn in WVU’s side all day, made a pair of free throws.
But the visitors promptly answered with a 9-1 run to get back in striking distance. It was Bryant who powered the rally, scoring 16 of the Mountaineers’ 18 points in a pivotal stretch of the second half.
While West Virginia could get close, it never could quite get over the hump in regulation. It tied the game at 72 when Kilicli scored with a little more than a minute and a half left, but Coleman answered and WVU trailed by three entering the final seconds.
Jones bailed out Bryant, who tried a tough shot inside the arc, scoring a putback to make it a 75-74 game. The Mountaineers were forced to foul and sent Coleman to the line with 11.8 seconds left. He only made one free throw, and Bryant made a drive through traffic for a game-tying layup with four seconds to go.
“Truck made some huge shots for us. Between Truck and Deniz, I thought they carried us in the second half,” Huggins said.
Kilicli made a left-hand hook early in overtime to give WVU its first lead since the score was 7-6 in the early stages. But Providence reclaimed the lead on a 3-pointer from LaDontae Henton and had another chance to take the edge when Coleman got fouled with PC down 84-83 and 10.9 seconds left.
The pressure again got to Coleman, who was otherwise brilliant in a 30-point effort. He made only one shot, leaving the game tied. Bryant then took the ball and was freed up beyond the arc by a Kilicli screen. The senior guard buried the shot with 3.0 seconds to play.
The Friars’ coach Ed Cooley called timeout, but Vincent Council missed a running attempt at the horn.
West Virginia avoided what would have been the program’s first four-game losing streak since the 2005-06 season. It also kept its Big East record above .500, an important barometer as the regular season heads into its final weeks.
“We didn’t play particularly well and were able to win,” Huggins said. “This hopefully will get us back on track, get us where we want to go.”