WVU was just the second team to win at USF this season, and it used a 9-3 run in the final minutes to seal the victory.
“This is our 20th game against top 100 people in the RPI, and I believe we're 10-10. That's the best in the country,” said WVU head coach Bob Huggins. "This is another top 50 win for us."
WVU’s seniors Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant combined for 34 points. Jones had a team-leading 18 points and 11 rebounds – another double-double to help his Big East Conference Player of the Year chances.
With the win, the Mountaineers (19-12, 9-9) likely cemented themselves in the NCAA tournament with two straight wins to end the regular season. It will also be the eight or nine seed in the Big East tournament. If Seton Hall wins vs. DePaul, WVU will be the nine-seed, but a Pirates loss will mean a Wednesday start in the Big East tournament for the Mountaineers.
USF (19-12, 12-6) likely will need a win in the Big East tournament to assure itself of an NCAA tournament berth.
“I don't think there's any doubt. I just told them in there, as long as we're having fun, let's go win it in New York," Huggins said. "I told them before the game I thought we would win."
With WVU up 44-41, USF’s Augustus Gilchrist hit a three to tie the game with under four minutes to play.
The Bulls had an opportunity to take the lead with a layup, but a demonstrative block by Jones led to free throws from him on the other end to take a 46-44 lead.
“He made an absolutely great block. He’s a special guy,” Huggins said. “There was a lot of contact today.”
After a USF timeout, WVU freshman point guard Gary Browne took a charge to give the ball back to the Mountaineers. With under 40 seconds to play, the Bulls decided not to foul until there were less than 14 seconds to play.
Bryant was fouled with 13.5 seconds to play, and hit both to take a 48-44 lead. The Mountaineers ended with two Jones free throws
WVU shot just 28.3 percent from the field and just 2-of-12 from three but hit 18-of-21 free throws to earn the win.
West Virginia didn’t score a point in the first four minutes, as it couldn’t get past the stingy Bulls’ defense, which is first in the Big East in points allowed per game.
Player of the Game
WVU took a 4-3 lead on a putback from freshman Aaron Brown, but a 5-0 run by South Florida gave it an 8-4 advantage.
Jones hit a three and followed with a contested jumper to go ahead 9-8 with 11:56 to play in the first half. He scored seven of the team’s first nine points.
USF scored on an ally-oop layup, but a 6-0 run behind two points from Brown, Bryant and junior college forward Dominique Rutledge gave the Mountaineers a 15-10 lead.
WVU continued to struggle offensively for much of the rest of the first half but was able to take a 24-19 lead into the halftime break.
Jones had 12 of the Mountaineers’ points in the first 20 minutes. USF was just 1-of-10 from 3-point range. WVU had a five-rebound advantage, as well.
The Bulls were able to take a quick 25-24 lead out of halftime after a 6-0 run that forced Huggins to call a timeout.
WVU struggled on the offensive end again, as that run increased to 10-1 to give South Florida a four-point advantage.
Junior forward Deniz Kilicli scored the first field goal on a layup after a Bryant steal to make it 29-27.
Bryant was fouled on a 3-point attempt, and he hit the free throws. That was followed by a layup from Jones to regain the lead at 34-33.
The game went back-and-forth over the next few minutes, as USF took the lead right back before a 5-0 run by Bryant make it 41-39 Mountaineers.
USF guard Anthony Collins, former WVU guard J.D. Collins’ brother, hit a jumper to tie the game at 41, but Bryant and freshman point guard Jabarie Hinds combined for three free throws to take a 44-41 lead with 3:49 to play.