MORGANTOWN - West Virginia spent nearly the entirety of Wednesday night's game with Notre Dame clawing back from a cold-shooting, disastrous first half. With less than three minutes to play, the Mountaineers finally made it all the way back and then some.
And then they collapsed again.
After battling back from a 12-point deficit to take the lead in the final three minutes, West Virginia fell victim to a barrage of 3-pointers by the Irish and lost 55-51 at the Coliseum.
The Irish, trailing 45-42 with 21/2 minutes to play, got consecutive 3-pointers from Eric Atkins, Jerian Grant and Scott Martin in a quick 11-0 run that produced a 51-45 lead. Notre Dame then kept WVU at bay with free throws.
"They were 2-for-18 from 3-point [range] and then they made three in a row,'' West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. "They made shots and we didn't. It's as simple as that.''
Indeed, Notre Dame had not been successful at all in shooting from long range until it mattered most. The Irish would finish the game 5-for-21 on 3s after that late surge.
West Virginia, meanwhile, spent the whole game trying to make up for its own lack of shooting in the first half. That's when the Mountaineers shot 24 percent, missed 10 of 11 3s and scored just 16 points in the first 20 minutes while falling behind 26-16.
"We just couldn't shoot it from outside and they let us shoot,'' said West Virginia forward Deniz Kilicli. "Sometimes that happens. They let you shoot if they don't think you'll make it. And we didn't.''
The loss was the fourth in five games for the slumping Mountaineers (16-9, 6-6 Big East), whose only win in that stretch was an overtime decision at Providence, the league's last-place team.
Notre Dame (16-8, 8-3) won for the fifth straight games, a streak that began with a win over then-unbeaten and No. 1 Syracuse and has included three wins over ranked teams.
Snapping out of its current skid won't be easy next time out, either. On Saturday the Mountaineers host No. 24 Louisville in a noon game at the Coliseum. The Cards have also won five straight, including a rout of Connecticut Monday.
Freshman Jabarie Hinds led West Virginia with 17 points, while Kilicli's big second half allowed him to finish with 16.
Kevin Jones, who was attempting to tie a 52-year-old school record with his 10th straight 20-point game, didn't make it. He finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds, making just six of his 15 shots.
That wasn't the most surprising number, though. Truck Bryant, he of the 32-point performance Sunday at Providence, did not score. He had eight assists, but went 0-for-6 from the floor and took only one shot in the second half, a layup that he missed in the final minutes. He also turned the ball over in the final minutes, his only one of those in the game.
It was Bryant's first scoreless game since the title game of a tournament in Puerto Rico last season.
Still, West Virginia had the game right where it wanted it as the clock was winding down. With Kilicli having a monstrous game inside, Jones warming up down the stretch and Hinds creating scoring opportunities, the Mountaineers took a 43-40 lead and still were up 45-42 with 21/2 minutes to play after a Kilicli basket.
But then Atkins, 0-for-6 on his 3-point attempts to that point, drained one to tie the score. After Bryant's only turnover of the game, Grant rained one down from 24 feet for the lead. Bryant tried to drive for a score on WVU's next possession -- his only shot of the half -- and missed, then Martin hit his 3 at the end of the shot clock with 55 seconds to go to all but wrap it up.
It was Atkins' 3, though, that was the biggest because it completely changed the momentum.
"They miss that one and we probably go back down and win the game,'' Huggins said. "But they made tough shots.''
Jack Cooley, Notre Dame's only real big man, had 21 points and 12 rebounds for the Irish. Martin and Grant each had 12 points.
Trailing by 10 at the half after a frigid-shooting first half, West Virginia slowly chipped its way back into contention behind Kilicli, who at one point had eight of WVU's 10 points. His last basket in a 10-2 run was a hook shot that he normally takes in the post but made from 12 feet this time to cut the Notre Dame lead to 32-28.
The Irish pushed the margin back out to eight at 38-30, but behind Jones and Kilicli West Virginia fought back quickly. Jones tied the game at 38 with a post move at the 7:09 mark and then gave WVU its first lead since 12-10 with a 3-pointer from the corner at 5:20, making it 41-40.
Kilicli then scored on a pair of post moves and WVU led 45-42 with under three to play before Notre Dame's run of 3-pointers in the final minutes.
The first-half problems West Virginia suffered weren't hard to figure out at all. The Mountaineers made just seven of 29 shots (24 percent) and scored only 16 points in falling behind 26-16. It wasn't terrific defense on the part of the Irish, either. West Virginia just plain missed shots, including 10 of 11 from 3-point range, largely wide-open looks.
The worst was a seven-minute stretch in the half when WVU went scoreless and was on the wrong end of a 9-0 run that turned a 12-10 lead into a 19-12 deficit. Notre Dame, which started the game 1-for-8 shooting, ended the half 11-for-18 and got a 3-pointer just ahead of the buzzer by Martin to make it a 10-point bulge.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickm...@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1
NOTRE DAME 55, WEST VIRGINIA 51