Mountaineers top Tigers 84-76 in NCAA Tournament

by - Senior Writer -
Guard Demontez Stitt (2)blocks a shot by Guard Casey Mitchell (3) of the West Virginia Mountaineers. Photos: Icon SMI

TAMPA, FL – As Thursday’s second round game drew to a close, the Clemson Tigers began to look like a team playing its fourth game in seven days.

The 12th-seeded Tigers jumped out to an early 10-point lead, but 5th-seeded West Virginia used a 21-2 run that spanned the end of the first half and the start of the second half and took advantage of a questionable call and three Clemson turnovers late to claim an 84-76 win in the NCAA Tournament at the St. Pete Times Forum.

Clemson took an early 10-point lead, but the Mountaineers hit 25-of-31 free throws, held a 37-31 advantage on the boards, and shot a blistering 49.1% from the field (27-of-55) during the game.

“Congratulate West Virginia on a very hard fought win,” Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said. “I thought we played exceptionally well at the start. They certainly made a nice run at the end of the half to tie it. Took a little bit of control in the second half and we fought back. And then a tough call late that went against us when we cut it to three, and they were able to make free throws, and then the bottom kind of fell out and they were able to win.”

The Tigers came with a lot of defensive energy early in the contest and jumped out to a 20-10 lead when Devin Booker took a nice feed from Milton Jennings for a layup.

The Tigers held the Mountaineers at bay for most of the half, and eventually took a 40-31 lead on a Jennings free throw with just over two minutes remaining. It was all West Virginia the rest of the half however as the Mountaineers went on a 9-0 run. Kevin Jones hit a 3-pointer just before the buzzer to tie the score at 40 heading into the break.

Clemson guard Andre Young said he didn’t see the game slipping away from the Tigers at that point.

“I thought throughout the game we had a chance to win it,” Young said. “There's a lot of crazy things that happen in these NCAA Tournaments, and you've just got to keep fighting and keep playing until the buzzer sounds. We just wanted to keep fighting, keep trying to play and give ourselves an opportunity to win the game. “

West Virginia would continue the run into the second half outscoring the Tigers 12-2 to begin the second stanza, completing a 21-2 run that saw them take a nine-point deficit and turn it into a 52-43 lead.

Tanner Smith said the Tigers began to show their fatigue at that point.

“I just think we just had a mental fatigue just occur,” Smith said. “I think we just didn't pay enough attention to detail, and we just didn't do a good enough job defensively and getting rebounds because that's how they got a lot their points. “

The Mountaineers would eventually reach the biggest lead of the afternoon for either team – at 12 points – on a layup by Dalton Pepper that made it 59-47 West Virginia with 11:43 remaining in the game.

Deniz Kiliclu hit two free throws with 5:17 left to put West Virginia up by 11 at 73-62, but the Tigers responded by clawing their way back into the game. Booker followed a missed 3-pointer by Young with a thunderous dunk that seemed to give the team new life, and Young hit a 3-pointer with 2:33 left that made it 74-69.

Booker followed that by blocking Joe Mazzulla’s layup attempt, and he fed Smith, who was streaking down the court. Smith was fouled by John Flowers, his shot seemingly rolling in and then out of the basket, but he hit both free throws to make it just 74-71 with 1:49 left in the game.

At that point – according to Brownell – the bottom dropped out.

Mazzulla dribbled the ensuing Mountaineer possession to just past halfcourt, where he was trapped by three Clemson defenders. Mazzulla cradled the ball and fell to the floor – bringing the Clemson bench to its feet in expectation of a traveling call – but the officials whistled Booker for a foul.

“I don't know, I just thought there was actually a possession with Devin in the middle where we cut it to three that was right in middle of the court,” Brownell said after the game. “I didn't think there was much contact, so they got to go to the foul line. It's a one possession game. We have momentum and now he makes two free throws and now it's back to five and they can go back and play zone and everything changes.

“That's how these games are, folks. I mean, it's a play here, a call there, a turnover, a missed shot, a made shot. Momentum just changes like that in these games, and all of a sudden the team that's behind, if we get that basketball back with a chance to take the lead or tie it to cut it to one that building is going to go in our favor and it's going to get crazy. “

Mazzulla drained both free throws, and then things got even worse.

West Virginia coach Bob Huggins switched to a 1-3-1 defense that led to three steals that effectively iced the game.

Smith brought the ball up the court, but Pepper stole the ball from Smith and hit a layup to make it 78-71, and 10 seconds later Pepper picked off a Stitt pass and hit yet another layup for an 80-71 lead. Pepper completed the trifecta by getting another steal 20 seconds later and the damage was done. Ironically, Pepper only had six steals all season, but claimed three in just under a minute.

“They certainly iced the game. It's not the normal way you would attack a one three one and obviously that's why Coach Huggins went to it,” Brownell said. “He went to it to slow the game. He went to it to try to make us make more passes late. You know, it would have been different if he did it with ten minutes to go and we had time to try to use the clock and do all those kind of different things. But my guys were trying to score quickly, we needed to score quickly.

“Certainly they were big plays, and obviously that's why coach does a great job is he went to that with four minutes to go or whatever, or three minutes to go, and we were having some success offensively, and it just forces you to play around it and probably risk some passes that you shouldn't risk, and he knocked a couple balls away, and that iced the game. “

Smith said the blown foul didn’t cost the Tigers the game.

“I just thought we had him in a good trap,” Smith said. “We just didn't get the call. That's just the way it is. But I made a key turnover after that, so it's not like that cost us the game or anything. We had plenty of chances to win the game, we just didn't finish plays.”

The Mountaineers were able to open up the lead in the second half by grabbing 10 of the first 12 rebounds, but Brownell said it wasn’t fatigue that was the cause.

“Just lack of attention to detail,” he said. “We told our guys that was going to be the most important factor in the second half, and that's obviously what Coach Huggins coaches their team to do. They're a tremendous offensive rebounding team. We got some offensive rebounds, as well, but in crucial times when we needed a stop, the last thing you've got to do is rebound the ball, and we didn't do it.

“They got three or four put backs and those were probably the game changers in terms of easy baskets like that really take a lot of pressure off your offense. You then don't have to make guarded shots or make plays. That's why free throws and put backs are so important, because they don't make you make shots, you don't have to make plays, you just lay it in or you go to the free throw line and make it. There were way too many free throws and way too many put backs for us to win today.”

VISITORS: Clemson 22-12
                          TOT-FG  3-PT         REBOUNDS
## Player Name            FG-FGA FG-FGA FT-FTA OF DE TOT PF  TP  A TO BLK S MIN
31 Booker, Devin....... f  6-9    0-1    1-2    4  4  8   2  13  1  2  2  0  30
45 Grant, Jerai........ c  5-10   0-0    3-4    2  4  6   3  13  1  1  0  1  30
02 Stitt, Demontez..... g  6-17   1-7    3-4    0  2  2   4  16  3  3  1  1  38
05 Smith, Tanner....... g  1-4    0-1    3-4    0  2  2   4   5  4  1  0  0  36
11 Young, Andre........ g  6-10   4-8    6-6    0  2  2   3  22  0  0  0  2  26
03 Anderson, Zavier....    0-1    0-0    0-0    2  2  4   1   0  0  2  0  1  10
12 Stanton, Cory.......    1-1    0-0    0-0    0  0  0   1   2  1  0  0  0   5
21 Narcisse, Bryan.....    0-1    0-1    0-0    1  0  1   3   0  0  0  0  0   5
24 Jennings, Milton....    0-5    0-3    5-6    3  1  4   3   5  5  0  0  0  20
   TEAM................                         1  1  2
   Totals..............   25-58   5-21  21-26  13 18 31  24  76 15  9  3  5 200

TOTAL FG% 1st Half: 13-28 46.4%   2nd Half: 12-30 40.0%   Game: 43.1%  DEADB
3-Pt. FG% 1st Half:  3-9  33.3%   2nd Half:  2-12 16.7%   Game: 23.8%   REBS
F Throw % 1st Half: 11-14 78.6%   2nd Half: 10-12 83.3%   Game: 80.8%    2

HOME TEAM: West Virginia 21-11
                          TOT-FG  3-PT         REBOUNDS
## Player Name            FG-FGA FG-FGA FT-FTA OF DE TOT PF  TP  A TO BLK S MIN
02 THOROUGHMAN, Cam.... f  2-3    0-0    1-2    3  5  8   4   5  3  2  0  0  27
05 JONES, Kevin........ f  6-11   3-4    2-2    4  5  9   3  17  0  0  0  0  31
41 FLOWERS, John....... f  1-2    0-0    1-2    2  1  3   4   3  0  0  0  1  22
21 MAZZULLA, Joe....... g  1-5    0-0   10-12   0  4  4   4  12  7  3  1  0  33
25 BRYANT, Darryl...... g  5-13   1-6    8-9    1  2  3   0  19  2  3  0  1  29
03 MITCHELL, Casey.....    2-6    0-2    0-0    0  0  0   0   4  0  0  0  0  16
04 WEST, Jonnie........    1-1    1-1    0-0    0  0  0   0   3  0  0  0  0   6
13 KILICLI, Deniz......    5-10   0-0    1-2    1  1  2   4  11  1  2  0  1  19
32 PEPPER, Dalton......    4-4    0-0    2-2    1  2  3   2  10  2  1  0  3  17
   TEAM................                         2  3  5
   Totals..............   27-55   5-13  25-31  14 23 37  21  84 15 11  1  6 200

TOTAL FG% 1st Half: 13-24 54.2%   2nd Half: 14-31 45.2%   Game: 49.1%  DEADB
3-Pt. FG% 1st Half:  4-9  44.4%   2nd Half:  1-4  25.0%   Game: 38.5%   REBS
F Throw % 1st Half: 10-10 100 %   2nd Half: 15-21 71.4%   Game: 80.6%    2

Officials: Gerry D. Pollard, John W. Hampton, JB Caldwell
Technical fouls: Clemson-None. West Virginia-None.
Score by Periods                1st  2nd   Total
Clemson.......................   40   36  -   76
West Virginia.................   40   44  -   84
NCAA Second Round - Game 1 in Tampa

Points in the paint-CU 38,WVU 36. Points off turnovers-CU 14,WVU 13.
2nd chance points-CU 9,WVU 20. Fast break points-CU 0,WVU 4.
Bench points-CU 7,WVU 28. Score tied-1 time. Lead changed-1 time.
Last FG-CU 2nd-00:20, WVU 2nd-01:18.
Largest lead-CU by 10 1st-13:25, WVU by 12 2nd-11:16.

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