ROSEMONT, Ill. - Bob Huggins insisted late Tuesday night that it was not DePaul's never-ending pressure than made West Virginia struggle so much against the Blue Demons, it was simply a matter of his team making poor decisions in the halfcourt.
And to an extent he was right. The Mountaineers escaped All-State Arena with a 67-65 win over DePaul in a game that was made close not so much by the mistakes WVU made against full-court pressure that never let up, but rather the turnovers the Mountaineers made in the halfcourt.
Still, at least some of those mistakes could be attributed to West Virginia simply wearing down in the face of that relentless defense. Either way, the Mountaineers themselves were thrilled to get out of the place with a win and the experience.
"Oh, my, we learned a world about handling pressure,'' said junior forward Kevin Jones. "I'm just glad we were able to learn it and still get a win instead of having to learn from a loss.''
It likely would have been a loss but for one shot. After fighting back from a 14-point second-half deficit, DePaul had the ball down by just 66-65 with the clock winding down. But freshman Brandon Young missed on an open 18-footer with two seconds to play to wrap it up for the Mountaineers.
"We got the last shot and it was a good one,'' said first-year DePaul coach Oliver Purnell. "If I'd known coming out of a timeout [with 12.8 seconds to play] that's the shot we were going to get, I would have taken it. He just didn't hit it.''
Before the end game, though, this was almost a battle of wills. It was DePaul pressing almost non-stop and West Virginia usually beating the pressure. The Mountaineers time and again got easy baskets or open shots after breaking that pressure and that, in part, led to leads of nine points in the first half and 14 in the second.
"We've worked pretty hard against pressure,'' Huggins said. "I really didn't think it was as much their pressure as it was making bad decisions in the halfcourt [that led to WVU losing both of those big leads].''
But again, that pressure wore West Virginia at least somewhat and that had to affect the way the Mountaineers played.
"I thought our style started to wear West Virginia down,'' Purnell said.
Still, when WVU survived it enabled the Mountaineers to snap their two-game losing skid to start the Big East season and improved their record to 9-4 overall and 1-2 in the league. DePaul lost its third straight and fell to 6-9 overall and 0-3 in the Big East.
With the score tied at 63 and 1:19 to play, West Virginia's Truck Bryant scored on a drive to the basket and made it a three-point play, then took a charge from Young that seemed to put the Mountaineers in pretty good shape. But Bryant turned the ball over against DePaul's pressure and Young made two free throws with 50 to pull the Blue Demons within 66-65.
Then with 18 seconds to play, Bryant drove to the basket near the end of the shot clock and missed, giving DePaul the ball. After a timeout with 12.8 seconds to play, the Demons worked the ball perfectly and got Young a great shot from just right of the key, but it missed.
John Flowers grabbed the rebound, made a free throw and Cam Thoroughman intercepted DePaul's last-ditch pass with 0.9 seconds to go to wrap it up.
Casey Mitchell led West Virginia with 18 points, while Deniz Kilicli added 14 and Jones 13. Playing two point guards most of the game to counter DePaul's pressure, Bryant had nine points and three assists [but six turnovers], while Joe Mazzulla added six points and four assists.
DePaul got 17 points from freshman Cleveland Melvin, 12 from Young and 10 from center Krys Faber. The Demons shot just 40 percent, while WVU hit 52 percent. WVU turned the ball over 16 times, DePaul 11.
The Mountaineers lost to Texas and Kentucky in Kansas City and LSU at home, then later that season WVU also lost Big East games consecutively to Seton Hall, Connecticut and Syracuse.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickm...@aol.com.
WVU 67, DePaul 65
WVU (9-4, 1-2)
Player FG FT R A P
Darryl Bryant 4-13 1-1 3 3 9
Casey Mitchell 7-13 1-2 4 3 18