The Mountaineers did everything they could to lose the game, and still rallied to get within one point at 61-60 after trailing by as many as 11 in the second half. But, in a microcosm of the game, WVU fouled Nik Cochran, Davidson’s best free throw shooter, then couldn’t free a solid outside threat and had to settle for Staten’s last-gasp toss at the bucket. The shot, like WVU’s play all game, didn’t look good but still almost got the job done, rimming out as time expired.
West Virginia’s effort was spotty, it’s play average to poor at times and its mental and physical execution severely lacking against a team that was overmatched in raw talent. Aaric Murray was in continual foul trouble, and Deniz Kilicli flirted with it all game, leaving WVU without the significant inside edge it needed against Davison’s superior shooting and basketball IQ. The Mountaineers committed 16 turnovers, missed more free throws than they made (8 of 17) and didn’t operate effectively at either end until the Wildcats has built a 51-40 lead with eight minutes left.
“We have yet to grasp the concept that you have to play every play,” WVU head coach Bob Huggins told WVUsports.com. “You can’t take plays off. We’ve got some guys who can do some things, but individually we are not very good. But we can be very good collectively – if we will. You can’t continually throw the ball two feet from the basket and come up empty, you can’t continually come down in transition and come up empty and we’ve got to do a much better job of rebounding the ball.”
Murray, who had sat out the majority of the second half, then reentered and spurred West Virginia’s efficiency inside and out. The Mountaineers used five Gary Browne points and a free throw in a 6-0 spurt get within 51-46, then slowly chipped away at the Davidson edge, getting within four points twice, three points and a single point twice each. Murray’s finished with just six points and eight boards, but his physical play and ability to change interior shots was badly missed by West Virginia for almost half the game. Murray played just 21 minutes, and Deniz Kilicli and Murray were rarely on the floor together with the exception of the final five minutes – and even then, Murry fouled out with 1:56 left.
“I’m down to three bigs and we can’t make dumb fouls when we only have three bigs right now,” Huggins said. “You can’t give away fouls and we were kind of handicapped because of it. Early foul trouble took us out of what we wanted to do.
West Virginia (1-2) trailed 57-53 then, and again made a push with a pair of frontcourt steals and resulting lay-ins. But a series of missed free throws and lay-ups – Matt Humphrey missed a pair of foul shots when Davidson led 58-55 and then blew a lay-in when it was 61-57 – kept the Mountaineers from momentum and, ultimately, doomed the comeback effort.
Staten led WVU (1-2) with a career-high 15 points, including two of the late steals and lay-ups, and Kilicli added 10 and 11 rebounds in a more firey display than he had shown thus far this season. The senior did match a career-high with six turnovers, but attacked the bucket with some tenacity and managed six offensive rebounds. Jabarie Hinds scored eight points. Chris Czerapowicz paced Davidson (2-2) with 15 points and nine rebounds, including a dagger three to put the Wildcats ahead 61-57 inside a minute. De’Mon Brooks added 12 and Jake Cohen had 11.
Czerapowicz’s three came shortly after West Virginia cut an 11-point lead down to 55-51 inside five minutes. Kilicli hit a free throw and a running putback. But Davidson, as it did all game, hit an open jumper against the zone before the Mountaineers, as they did all game, ran down the entire shot clock only to settle for a missed driving lay-up by Gary Browne. The sophomore rebounded his own miss, only to inexplicably try a wrap-around pass to nobody and was called for travelling. Czerapowicz again hit a shot, and Davidson had another six-point lead.
The Wildcats scored 16 of the first 21 second half points to take what proved an insurmountable lead at 46-37 with 12 minutes left. That came after a back-and-forth first half in which Davidson jumped to an 8-2 lead via solid shooting and lackadaisical play by the Mountaineers. Increased defensive intensity spurred an 11-0 surge that gave WVU a 13-8 lead with seven minutes played. Staten scored a pair of buckets, one in transition, to jumpstart the run. Terry Henderson hit a three immediately upon entering around the 13:30 mark to finish the run, and Davidson’s scoreless streak reached four-plus minutes until Clint Mann’s jumper with 12 minutes to play. The team jockeyed the remainder of the half, Davidson living on free throws and an 8-0 run of its own late, while WVU rode the penetrative play of Hinds and Staten to a 30-22 edge late in the half. Both scored eight points to amass more than half the Mountaineer points, and WVU managed a 19-12 rebounding advantage and 14 points in the paint.
The Mountaineers hit 14 of 31 shots to Davidson’s 10 of 24, but got to the line just twice, making two of four to the Wildcats’ 7 of 9. Davidson had 10 first-half turnovers after committing just nine in the opening round game against Vanderbilt. WVU had 11.
“We take 60 shots, they take 41, we take 17 free throws and they take 22, and we are 8 for 17 and they are 17 for 22, so absolutely (missed free throws) is a factor in the game,” Huggins said. “It pretty much is the game.”
Davidson now advances to Sunday’s championship game to play either Gonzaga or Oklahoma, while West Virginia will play in the consolation game against either Oklahoma or Gonzaga at 4:30 p.m. in a game that will be televised on ESPNU.