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Bryant helps Mountaineers end slide

PROVIDENCE, R.I. - This was the kind of day that Truck Bryant could make light of his propensity to shoot the basketball at any time and under any circumstances.

Why? Well, because he was making as many as he was missing.

Take the final seconds of overtime at the Dunkin Donuts Center against Providence Sunday afternoon, for example. The clock is winding down to under 10 and then under five. Bryant has the ball in a tie game and he hasn't given it up since taking the inbounds pass. He's at the top of the key with Deniz Kilicli setting a screen.

"He kept saying, 'Shoot it, shoot it, shoot it,' ' Bryant said of Kilicli. "Well, you know me. I was going to shoot it anyway. He didn't have to tell me.''

Indeed, no one ever has to tell Bryant to shoot the basketball.

This time the shot went in, as did most of the important ones he took during 45 non-stop minutes Sunday. And as a result not only of his game-winning 3-pointer but his 32 points overall, West Virginia is no longer mired in a losing streak after an 87-84 win over Providence.

How big was the win? Well, Bob Huggins insisted afterward that there are still plenty of opportunities to win games with seven left before the Big East tournament. But losing this one, to the league's last-place team and extending a losing streak to four, that would have been hard to overcome.

"It was this close,'' Bryant said, holding his fingers a fraction of an inch apart in describing how close the Mountaineers' season came to all but ending with another consecutive loss. "But at the end of the day, we got a win that we needed.''

Indeed, the victory snapped a frustrating three-game losing streak for the Mountaineers (16-8, 6-5 Big East), who nonetheless remain in eighth place in the league. But eighth place with seven games to play is certainly not a hole that can't be escaped. West Virginia is just a half-game out of fifth and two games out of second.

On the other hand, it is also two games out of 10th and three above 14th.

Providence (13-11, 2-9), which broke a four-game losing streak by beating Rutgers Wednesday, fell back into the Big East cellar with its ninth loss in the last 11 games.

How close was this to becoming a disaster of St. John's proportions? Very. Providence, just an average shooting team and the one in the Big East that takes the fewest 3-pointers, made a staggering 14 of its first 16 shots, four 3s in a row to start the game, and as the first half approached the seven-minute mark, WVU found itself in a 15-point hole, 32-17.

That was enough of a lead that the rest of the afternoon became West Virginia trying to claw back. Behind Bryant's 32 points, Kilicli's career-high 22 and Kevin Jones' 20, they finally did it at the end of regulation, knotting it at 76 on Bryant's drive to the basket with four seconds left.

As he would do again at the end of overtime, Providence's Vincent Council missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer to end regulation.

The overtime was all Kilicli until Bryant's game-winner. He opened the extra period with a hook shot to give WVU its first lead since 7-6, put WVU up 84-83 with another hook at the 90-second mark, and then stuffed a Gerard Coleman drive to the basket on the next possession.

Coleman, who had a career-high 30 points, finally made a free throw with 10.9 seconds to play to tie the game at 84 and set up Bryant's winner with 3.3 seconds to play.

After that scorching shooting start, Providence settled back to normal. The Friars made 14 of their first 16 shots, but then 14 of their final 39. Among Coleman's 30 points was a 12-for-16 showing at the foul line. LaDontae Henton, Council and Bryce Cotton combined for 48 points.

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1

 


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