Early in the second half, West Virginia is getting killed by stupid fouls. John Flowers picks up one, and Joe Mazzulla the other. They both lead to back to back 3 point plays. They need to play smart on both ends.
After the old fashioned three pointers, the 'Cuse heats up and hits a pair of the usual kind. Huggins takes a timeout and the Mountaineers, in the blink of an eye, go from a four point halftime lead to a three point deficit. Twelve quick points by the Orange. This one is going to be wild down the stretch. Streaky shooting by both teams.
The Mountaineers are getting layups, but they're laying on the rim and then rolling off the wrong way. It's pretty heartbreaking. If WVU doesn't start running some good offense and get a few bounces along the way, this could get away from them very quickly.
Casey Mitchell cuts an eleven point Orange run with a big three, but otherwise, things still aren't looking up. John Flowers is headed to the bench with his fourth foul, which is not a good sign.
An amazing bounce off the rim gives Mitchell his seventeenth point on a big three. Then, Syracuse runs out quickly and gets dunked on. This sort of tradeoff has plagued the 'Eers all night. They need to get back, because right now they're getting burned.
The Turk just doesn't have his touch tonight. Each hook is rattling out. Luckily, Casey Mitchell's hit six threes. He's taking everything, but he's hitting most of it.
After a few posessions of waiting and watching Casey jack up anything, West Virginia plays smart again. Kevin Jones buries a ten footer from the stripe and the Orange lead is cut to 2. After being down 9, this is a very good thing. The Mountaineers offensive play has been improbable thus far, and their passing and rebounding have been flat out bad. Some clutch shots keep this interesting.
Back to back turnovers from Thoroughman, and the Orange start running again, quickly stretching the lead to eight. Nothing is ever easy. Cam's such a smart player that he gets the ball in great situations, but he just can't finish to save his life. He's stretching on some of these passes, but that's because he can't get a legitimate look against a legit big man. It's frustrating. He's not playing well right now, and I like him a whole lot better at the high post than the low.
After that run, the 'Cuse takes the air out of the ball. Huggins waited maybe a minute too long to start fouling, but it doesn't matter. The Mountaineers got killed on the boards tonight and got baited into taking a lot of long, not so great jumpers. Sixteen turnovers don't help either. The guantlet continues, but West Virginia has the rest of the week off before Notre Dame comes to town on Saturday.
At halftime, the MOuntaineers lead 30-24 behind some hot three point shooting. Here are some first half thoughts:
Three point shooting kept the Mountaineers in it early, but that waned as the half wore on. Casey Mitchell, Dalton Pepper, John Flowers and Truck Bryant all hit big threes. Didn't stop there, and mid-half it degenerated into a lazy chuck-fest.
When the offense goes through the high post, it seems to work. Both Deniz Kilicli and Kevin Jones have proven they can hit the ten-footer. Cam Thoroughman has passed from the post successfully, though he spent much of the half on the bench with two fouls.
The 'Cuse run-outs are killing the 'Eers. They can't seem to run offense against WVU's man to man defense, but in transition they've been eating the 'Eers lunch. Nothing causes run-outs like bad offense, and WVU's run some of that.
Late in the half, the mojo comes back and Flowers and Mitchell hit back to back threes and suddenly West Virginia goes from struggling to leading. Right now they're 7 for 13 from deep. That's huge.
So, despite getting out worked on the boards and letting the 'Cuse get some run outs that led to easy buckets, the 'Eers have to be happy. If they can keep hitting their deep shots, it could be easy. If they can't, and I honestly don't think they will, they'll need to continue to work it into the key and hope KJ and the Turk can hit the mid-range shot. Whatever the shot selection, crashing the boards and rotating back on defense will be key to second half success.
Happy Valentine's Day, everybody! Tonight, in lieu of a date with the ladyfriend, I'll be watching a Big East battle that (I hope) will make me fall in love with the Mountaineers all over again! Here's what's on my mind as I prepare for Big Monday in the Dome:
The Gauntlet Awaits. Nothing has been easy about this season for the Mountaineers, but nothing can compare to the brutal stretch run that awaits them in the Big East. Five of the Mountaineers' last six are against top 20 teams, starting with tonight's date with the Orange. West Virginia is sitting at 16-8 overall and 7-5 in conference play, with 6 games left before the Big East tournament. Things that jump out immediately are that it seems like that magic plateau of 10 conference wins and 20 overall wins will be hard to get too. WVU should handle Rutgers at the RAC, but otherwise, there really aren't any games left on the schedule that they will be favored to win. A win tonight against a slumping Syracuse team will go a long way towards making a decent record achievable. After that, it looks less and less likely. This team will still probably slide into the Big Dance on Huggins' star power alone, but having the losses to Miami and Marshall back would make things a lot simpler.
That Beatable Zone. To me, I hardly know why teams play the 2-3. This zone is really, really easy to beat, or at least it seems that way. Just shoot lights-out from downtown, or create good interior looks by passing through the free throw lane extended, and points come easy. Unfortunately for Mountaineer fans, this team is good at neither of those things. The the tendency to jack up ill-advised threes will rear its head tonight, and if those shots don't go in, it could be a long night. The keys to success for the 'Eers are the play of Cam Thoroughman and Kevin Jones. Thoroughman is a deceptively good passer, and if he can distribute from the top of the key, Deniz Kilicli and John Flowers could get some good looks down low. The same goes for Jones, who also adds a top-of-the-key jumper to the equation, should Syracuse choose not to collapse on him. I'm saying it right now: the Mountaineers just can't win tonight without good passing from Cam and Jones.
Keep Passing The Ball! West Virginia put together it's best game of the year distributing the ball against DePaul this past weekend. Problem is that it's hard to tell how representative that is of progress, since the Blue Demons are just so terrible. Darryl Bryant and Joe Mazzulla each finished that game with a six-pack of assists, and that kind of heady play will be needed tonight. The Orange are slumping hard but, to me, that actually makes them much more dangerous. I don't think losing at home will even be an option for Boehiem's bunch, so I expect a hard fought match-up.
I'll be on the couch with the rest of you. Check back to SBNation Pittsburgh for half-time and post-game updates.