CORAL GABLES, Fla. - In West Virginia's pregame warmups, Mountaineer guard Casey Mitchell found the beat to the music thumping the BankUnited Center here Saturday and did a little dance.
In the end, though, it was the host Miami Hurricanes that had all the right moves in a 79-76 non-conference victory over the Mountaineers.
UM (6-2) rallied from a 13-point second-half deficit to hand WVU its second loss of the season in seven games.
"This meant a lot to us," said UM's Malcolm Grant. "West Virginia's a great team. They're going to finish at the top of the Big East. Just for us to come out successfully is really big for our program."
How disappointing was it for WVU, a Final Four team a season ago?
"Very," said Mountaineer point guard Truck Bryant. "Very. It's very disappointing."
There's little wonder why. West Virginia led 54-41 on a Dalton Pepper second-half 3-point basket, but Miami received some big baskets from Grant, who finished with 26 points, and Adrian Thomas, who finished with 13, down the stretch.
WVU failed on two counts in the game. Of course, the Mountaineers lost the game against a team picked to finish eighth in the 12-team Atlantic Coast Conference. But they also failed to capitalize on serious Miami foul trouble, especially on big men Reggie Johnson, the 6-foot-10 center, and Julian Gamble, the 6-9 forward who filled in at center.
"They just wanted it more than we did,'' said WVU's Kevin Jones. "We didn't do what we needed. We had a 13-point lead and we didn't do what we needed to win. It came down to them wanting it more than us."
After leading just 35-33 at halftime, WVU came out strong from the locker room. With Johnson starting the second half on the bench with three fouls, Bryant got Miami's leading scorer, Durand Scott, to commit his third foul at 19:49. Bryant then ignited WVU with a trey. A John Flowers jam and a Mitchell 3-pointer gave West Virginia a 10-point lead with 17:55 left.
The strong start continued as Johnson picked up his fourth foul with 15:11 remaining. A Bryant drive gave Gamble his fourth at 14:57. But no Hurricane ever fouled out of the game.
Against WVU's 1-3-1 zone defense, Thomas hit a pair of treys to bring his team within 56-51. WVU then began having foul trouble. Flowers picked up his fourth at 7:58. Bryant would eventually foul out.
Also, Miami began to spread the floor and use its quickness. Guard Garrius Adams drove to close the gap to 62-58.
"They started to drive at the basket," said WVU coach Bob Huggins. "They drove it at will. A year ago we went 1-3-1 to try and stop penetration and we pretty much did ... We had to go back to man-to-man.''
Finally, with 3:58 remaining, Grant gave the hosts the lead at 66-64 with a 3-point goal from the left wing after Flowers had been trapped on the other end of the court. The crowd of 6,548 was alive.
The game, however, was undecided until to the last seconds.
With 17.8 seconds to go, Mitchell, who finished with 18 points, hit a 3-pointer to draw the Mountaineers to within 75-74. UM struggled to get the ball upcourt on its ensuing possession and called a timeout with 10.1 seconds left.
After the pause, Scott inbounded the ball to Johnson, who was fouled by Jones. It seemed like a good deal for WVU since the center was a 66 percent free-throw shooter heading into the game. The big man, though, knocked both down and WVU had to call a timeout with 9.4 seconds left, down 77-74.
WVU's Bryant was fouled bringing the ball upcourt with 6.9 seconds left and hit both free throws to make it 77-76 in favor of UM.
Bryant almost got a steal on Miami's inbounds play, but ended up committing his fifth foul on Grant with 6.3 seconds remaining.
West Virginia had one last shot down 79-76, but against UM's full-court press, a Jonnie West pass was knocked away and stolen by the Hurricanes.
WVU was in control most of the first half and managed to get both 6-10, 303-pound sophomore Johnson and 6-9, 258-pound Gamble in foul trouble.
Jones said he felt that gave the Mountaineers a big advantage.
"Definitely,'' Jones said. "We knew their big guys were a key part of their team. We had them on the bench. I think that's why we were up. We had them in foul trouble and their shooters weren't getting open shots. They weren't getting to the rim as easily.
"Once they started doing that, it was trouble for us."
Johnson made his presence felt early, but the Mountaineers received a couple nice plays from Mitchell to give the visitors some cushion. Mitchell grabbed a rebound and got Johnson to foul at 12:45, hit the free throws and drove the lane on the next possession to give West Virginia a 19-12 lead. Right after, Bryant got Johnson to foul for the second time on a loose ball at 11:49.
UM came back to within 23-22, but WVU went on a spurt thanks to some nice inside play to gain a 29-22 advantage when UM coach Frank Haith gambled. He inserted Johnson at 6:51. At 5:12, the big man was on the bench with his third foul.
Miami again rallied and took a brief 31-30 lead on an Adrian Thomas straight-away 3-point basket.
At the half, WVU led 35-33 despite shooting just 35.7 percent from the field. The Mountaineers, though, outrebounded the Hurricanes 23-16.
At game's end, West Virginia still had a 37-31 rebounding edge, but Johnson was still standing, scoring 14 points with seven rebounds.
"We tried to throw it in there,'' Huggins said of attempts to foul Johnson out. "But some of the guys we tried to throw it to ended up 10 feet away shooting fadeaways. Some, instead of catching it five feet away like [UM did] caught it at eight feet and then traveled. We didn't do a very good job."