The Mountaineers had a 10-point lead with 16:08, but the experienced Bulldogs found a way to claw their way back and earn a 80-76 victory over WVU in a boisterous Coliseum.
WVU has now lost its last 14 games against ranked opponents. Its last win was Jan. 7, 2012 versus Georgetown. WVU hasn’t beaten a ranked non-conference opponent since 2011.
"We’re so close. We’re so close to being pretty good, but at the same time we’re so far away," said WVU head coach Bob Huggins. "We had opportunities. We just didn’t complete the task, I guess. But you can’t say they don’t care or didn’t compete. We missed some shots."
WVU was led by sophomore guard Eron Harris, who finished with a game-high 23 points, 18 of those coming in the first half. Harris couldn't get much going in the second half and was frustrated after the game.
"I felt like I had a good enough [first] half to be an option in the second half," Harris said. "I felt like I wasn't an option, and I'm not a selfish person ... We've got to address it."
Guard Terry Henderson, who was in the starting lineup for the first time this year in place of freshman forward Nathan Adrian, finished with 15 points.
Point guard Juwan Staten finished with 17 points for the Mountaineers.
Gonzaga was led by guard Kevin Pangos, who scored 18 points including nine off of three 3-pointers late in the game, which would give the Bulldogs a big enough lead to eventually secure the victory.
"He’s good, and he makes big shots," Huggins said.
Center Przemek Karnowski was also efficient, particularly in the first half against WVU’s young inside players. He finished with a team-high 19 points and 13 rebounds.
After Gonzaga looked to have put the game away with an eight-point lead late, Harris hit a three with less than two minutes to play to give the Mountaineers a chance at 76-72, but he missed the front end of a one-and-one that kept the Gonzaga lead at four.
Following a turnover by the Bulldogs, Staten hit a jumper with 51.2 seconds to make it 76-74 Gonzaga.
An offensive rebound and dunk by center Sam Dower, who had 11 points, with 33 seconds left gave the Bulldogs a 78-74 advantage.
Following a timeout by Huggins, Harris threw up an air ball, which led to game-sealing free throws on the other end for Gonzaga.
WVU shot 37 percent for the game, while the Bulldogs made 44 percent of its shots. WVU also got out-rebounded by seven.
The game featured 14 lead changes, four ties and only one double-digit lead that lasted less than 30 seconds.
The Mountaineers fell to 6-4 and don’t have many more chances to earn quality non-conference victories. WVU plays Marshall on Saturday in Charleston.
"We have to win enough games. I think we could’ve beaten everyone we’ve played up to this point if we played them at the end of the year, because we’re going to keep getting better and better," Huggins said.
The Mountaineers flew out of the gates in the second half and took a 10-point lead on a driving layup from Harris with 16:03 to play forcing a timeout from Gonzaga head coach Mark Few.
"They're a veteran team, and teams like that always find a way to get it done," Henderson said. "I thought we played so hard, and I thought we gave it everything we had. We just didn't stick it out for 40 minutes. It hurt us."
The Bulldogs would turn up its defense following the timeout, as WVU’s lead would sink to just four points on an 8-2 run by the Gonzaga. That forced Huggins to call a timeout of his own with 12:32 to play.
WVU would continue to keep the lead, as the Mountaineers were able to score back and forth with the Bulldogs. A four-point play by Henderson with about eight minutes to play gave West Virginia a 64-56 lead, but Gonzaga quickly followed that with a three of its own from Kyle Dranginis.
That three would start a 12-2 run for Gonzaga that was capped off by a three from Pangos at the top of the key to allow the Bulldogs to regain the lead for the first time since the first half at 68-66.
After a timeout, Pangos would hit two more threes to give Gonzaga its biggest lead of the game at 74-66 with 2:18 to play.
WVU couldn’t make enough plays in the final two minutes to earn the victory.
"We took a number of quick shots. We took a number of shots that we didn't need to take, especially with as much time on the clock as there was. Then, we didn't get back, and they made shots," Staten said.
Gonzaga would jump out to the lead early on, but West Virginia would take its first lead on free throws from Harris to go up 13-12.
The game went back and forth many times the rest of the first half, as the biggest lead for both team was five points, as Adrian hit a three to give the Mountaineers a 27-22 lead.
The Bulldogs were led by Karnowski toward the end of the first half, as he hit their last seven points of the half. WVU had Harris, though, who hit back-to-back threes to ignite an already feisty crowd. The Mountaineers would take a 39-35 lead into the locker room on a driving layup from Staten.
Guard Gary Bell Jr. also finished in double figures for the Bulldogs. He had 15 points.
The Mountaineers had just five turnovers in the losing effort. They also had 18 fewer points in the paint. Gonzaga held WVU to just two fast-break points.