Down by seven at the half to No. 21 Rutgers, the Mountaineers looked like it would fall short in their big to win five straight. However, it was a different WVU in the second half.
West Virginia outscored Rutgers by 17 points in the second half in a 60-50 victory over the Scarlet Knights at the WVU Coliseum.
“I thought this game was really important for us. We couldn’t win on the road and come back here and lose,” said WVU head coach Mike Carey. “The punched us in the mouth in the first half. We fought back in the second half, though.”
The Mountaineers (19-6, 9-3) have now won five straight games and three straight over top 25 teams. WVU also defeated No. 14 Louisville on Feb. 4 and No. 2 Notre Dame on Sunday.
WVU is now tied with St. John’s for third in the Big East Conference standings. The Mountaineers trail only Notre Dame and Connecticut. Even still, Carey is not sure WVU is a lock for the NCAA tournament.
“We’ve still got four games left, and we’ve got to win some of them,” he said. “We’re playing well, but we’ve got to continue to win.”
Just three days after a career-high performance, junior center Asya Bussie had 15 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Mountaineers. Sophomore guard Christal Caldwell had a team-high 16 points, as well – all but four coming in the second half.
“We’re hungry. We’re really focused right now. We hve a young team, but we’re really focused and want to win,” Bussie said.
A technical foul was called on Rutgers for slamming the ball in frustration with under four minutes to play, and junior center Ayana Dunning hit the two free throws. Sophomore point guard Brooke Hampton drained a three from the top of the key to take a 54-48 advantage to seal the victory.
“We just lost our composure a little bit,” said Rutgers head coach C. Vivian Stringer.
The Mountaineers opened the second half on a 5-0 run behind three points from Bussie to cut the lead to just two at 31-29.
A 7-0 run game West Virginia its first lead of 36-35 since it was 2-0 with more than 12 minutes to play in the game on a layup from Bussie.
With the game tied up at 61 with under eight minutes to play, Rutgers’ Khadijah Rushton hit an athletic layup and added a free throw to take a three-point lead. But, the Mountaineers responded with a 5-0 run.
The game would go back and forth through much of the middle of the second half. With less than eight minutes to play, there were six lead changes in a three-minute span.
Two of Rutgers’ front-line players fouled out with more than four minutes to play in the game, and the Mountaineers took advantage of its size the rest of the way en route to the win.
Following the technical by RU, it seemed like the Mountaineers had the advantage.
West Virginia struggled to stop Rutgers in the first half. The Scarlet Knights shot 71.4 percent in the half as two players were already in double figures.
In the second, however, the Scarlet Knights were held to 20.7 percent shooting.
WVU plays DePaul next on Saturday at 4 p.m. at the WVU Coliseum.