The result left the many WVU fans who showed up at Madison Square Garden stunned. West Virginia (19-13) outplayed the Huskies for long stretches and held a lead as large as 11 points with 11:29 remaining.
That advantage was still a relatively comfortable margin of nine points with about four minutes remaining, when the Mountaineers had the ball even after missing a try in transition. Truck Bryant had an open look at a 3-pointer that would have essentially salted the outcome away, but he missed.
That seemed to be the turning point, as Napier -- who was brilliant throughout the second half -- took over completely. He scored the game’s next nine points, hitting a 3-pointer, a pair of free throws, then pick-pocketing WVU guards on consecutive possessions and turning the steals into easy layups.
The same game that only moments earlier seemed to be the Mountaineers’ to lose was suddenly tied at 63.
Player of the Game
“Just a little bit of disbelief, disappointment,” senior Kevin Jones said of his reaction. “My team played their hardest. We didn't make the correct decisions at the end.”
Gary Browne made a jump shot to give WVU the lead back, but Andre Drummond immediately answered on the other end. Neither team could score in a tense final minute, and the game headed to overtime.
It was West Virginia’s sixth overtime game of the season, a program record. But the Mountaineers didn’t look like an experienced team in the tense situation, as they missed all 11 of their shots from the field in the extra frame and tied a Big East record for fewest points in an overtime period with only two.
UConn (20-12) locked down on Jones, WVU’s best player. The senior had 25 points, but none in almost 12 minutes to end the game. Huggins blamed Jones’ teammates.
“He was playing with a bunch of freshmen that don't have any idea what the hell they're doing,” the head coach said frankly.
Still, the game was tied with fewer than two minutes left in the overtime. But the Huskies’ Jeremy Lamb made the play of the game, curling off a screen and making a difficult 3-pointer to make it 70-67.
The Mountaineers simply couldn’t get quality shots. Bryant looked for a foul call that didn’t come on one subsequent trip. When they did get open looks, players seemed unsure of themselves -- a problem borne out when 3-point specialist Paul Williamson, who checked in for the waning seconds with WVU down by four, turned down an open look at a trifecta.
“We didn't execute down the stretch like we were supposed to,” Bryant said. “I mean, it just was a rough game. You go up, got a big lead and feel like you're about to put the game away, and then the game slips away from you. It's rough. We all know it's basketball and it's a game of runs, but it got tough down the stretch.”
Jones led West Virginia with his 25 points. He added 10 rebounds for his 21st double-double of the season. Bryant added 20 despite making only four of 14 shots from the field.
Napier scored 22 of his game-high 26 points in the second half and overtime. He added six assists, three blocks and three steals. Lamb finished with 22 points.
WVU’s tenure in the Big East essentially came to an end with the loss. It will play in the Big 12 Conference in 2012-13.
“It's been a good run,” Huggins said. “We've enjoyed it, most of it anyway. I mean, there's nothing like coming to the Garden to play in the tournament.”