AMES, Iowa - If it seems like West Virginia had played its Wednesday night's game against Iowa State before, well, it's probably because the Mountaineers had.
Of course, the one difference between this one and the one at Texas a week ago in Austin was a big one. This time the Mountaineers didn't complete the miracle finish.
A week after staging a dramatic rally to beat the Longhorns in overtime, West Virginia did the same thing in almost precisely the same way at Hilton Coliseum. But after rallying from 18 points down in the final eight minutes to tie the game, the Mountaineers lost it in the last three seconds, 69-67.
"That's a hard one to take,'' said West Virginia guard Jabarie Hinds, who had tied the game with a clutch 3-pointer with 11.6 seconds to go. "The hardest part for me is that on the last play, that was my rotation. I should have been back there.''
Because Hinds and no one else was at the basket, however, Georges Niang made a wide-open layup with 2.5 seconds to play and WVU couldn't get off a last shot. Freshman Eron Harris, who along with seldom-used Matt Humphrey had keyed the comeback with their long-range shooting, ran into ISU's Chris Babb at halfcourt and fell as the buzzer sounded.
"I don't want to say the wrong thing,'' Harris said carefully a few moments afterward. "But I think I was fouled.''
It won't go into the books that way, though, but rather as an incredible comeback that was almost completed.
Down 56-38 as the clock wound under eight minutes, the Mountaineers seemed dead in the water -- far more so than a week ago at Texas, when they rallied from 13 points with more time left on the clock. They had not made shots -- Harris snapped an 0-for-13 team performance from the 3-point line a few minutes before the rally began in earnest, just as Kevin Noreen had done at Texas -- and a crowd of 13,148 was loud and active.
But just as was the case last week in Austin, West Virginia didn't fold. Humphrey, who hadn't played since Dec. 22 and had seen just 24 minutes of floor time since November, came in and immediately drilled two 3-pointers following another by Hinds and the lead was cut in half.
"I finally got a chance to play,'' Humphrey said. "I didn't want to waste it.
He didn't. Between he and Harris they kept firing and when Harris made back-to-back long-range 3s it was down to 60-57 and 31/2 minutes remained.
Hinds had a chance to tie with an open 3 from the corner 30 seconds later, but it was an air ball.
Then, after Iowa State crept back out by 64-57, Harris and Humphrey drained tough, long shots and with a minute left it was 67-64 and a one-possession game again.
Aaric Murray then blocked a shot by Korie Lucious out of bounds to preserve the margin before Hinds drilled his tying shot with 11.6 seconds to play.
It was too much time, though. Iowa State had time to get up the floor and Will Clyburn had the ball 15 feet from the basket as time ran down. Because the clock was almost gone, WVU's defense converged on him and he found Niang wide open under the basket.
Hinds took full responsibility.
"I held onto my man [instead of switching to Niang],'' Hinds said. "I was afraid he was going to get open.''
The loss was the third in the last four games for West Virginia (8-8, 1-3 Big 12), all in league play. The Mountaineers step out of conference for the last time Saturday when they go to West Lafayette, Ind., to face Purdue.
Iowa State, picked to finish eighth in the 10-team Big 12 by the coaches in their preseason poll, improved to 12-4 overall and 2-1 in the league. The Cyclones' only conference loss was in overtime at No. 4 Kansas and three of their four defeats this season have come at the hands of teams that are currently ranked.
Hinds finished with 20 points and Harris 17 for West Virginia, which after missing those first 13 3s made nine of its final 11.
Iowa State, one of the most balanced and high-scoring teams in the country, got 16 points from Melvin Ejim, 15 from Korie Lucious and 11 each from Babb and Clyburn. The Cyclones, who stayed with WVU in the first half and led by three at the break only because they made six first-half 3pointers, made just two more in the second half.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickm...@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.
Iowa State 69, West Virginia 67
WEST VIRGINIA (8-8, 1-3)
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