With around 8:00 left in the game, I wrote down on my notes, "Jevon Carter is the story of this game." But at the end, Lamont West was the story of the game. West came into the game shooting under 38% from the floor and under 28% from the 3-point line, and he was the one who hit the big shots in the last few minutes on his way to a career high 22 points.
If Lamont West is going to shoot way above his average and drop 22 on you, you're going to have a hard time beating West Virginia.
For the Hoos, it was a disappointing outing, because you saw things that had to bother you. First Kyle Guy was awful, then Ty Jerome was awful. Devon Hall kept Virginia alive in the first half, then wasn't able to make plays down the stretch. Mamadi Diakite gave the Hoos some inside offense in the first half, but in the second half the Hoos got nothing from their posts, which just allowed West Virginia to snuff out drives and pressure the perimeter. We got 0 field goals and 7 rebounds from Isaiah Wilkins and Jack Salt and another stretch-4 was the difference. The press offense at the beginning of each half was atrocious and the inability to come out of the locker room ready to match their intensity ultimately cost the Hoos the game.
To this observer, this game fits into a pattern of games from 2013 to the present: Virginia losing to an opponent's ferocity. Teams that play inspired, that play ferociously, are able to take the Cavaliers out of their comfort zone, disrupt the rhythm of the sets, and the sheer athleticism, or the driving anger, just isn't there to overcome. When a game is civilized and cerebral, Virginia is lethal. When it becomes brutal and feral, there just is not quite enough. It reminded me of Michigan State games, where the game is close, and you have a chance at the end, but you just know the whole game which team is going to win, because one team is fighting to stay alive, and the other one is fighting to kill.
A lot of warriors inhabited the arena in Morgantown, showered by the bloodlust of 14,000 howling Mountaineers.
No warrior had a doughtier heart than Jevon Carter. The ageless wonder of West Virginia was the best player on the court, the inspirational leader of his men. He did, as Dino Gaudio said in a stunning moment of clarity amid his usual blather, "give his teammates courage." In a game that featured two of the nation's best and most disruptive defenders, Carter was the best defender on the floor. For most of the game, he blew up Virginia's offense, and what the Cavaliers were able to do, they had to sneak over to the other side of the court to do. Carter was the game's high scorer. He was the game's high rebounder. Most important, whenever the Cavaliers made a charge, it was Carter setting his spear into the ground and rallying the phalanx around him.
West was the Mongolian siege engine slinging pitch at the Virginia tower from out of bowshot and it was his late shots that toppled the enemy flag. At 7-13 from the floor, 4-9 from the arc (when the hell did he miss FIVE? I remember everything he threw up going in) and 4-4 from the line, his rangefinding was lethal.
West Virginia center Sagaba Konate didn't score but he was that tower of a man with tree trunks for limbs and bare skin that breaks sword tips, swatting away everything the Cavalier guards (except Devon Hall) brought near his basket, and helping his general win the battle of the boards. Konate was the game's second-leading rebounder with 8, and his indomitable defense of the paint allowed the West Virginia guards to gamble and trap, casting Virginia's formations into disarray time and time again. Daxter Miles darted in and out like a thief slashing at knee tendons with his knife and getting in one killer stroke late just when his team needed it to put some space between them and the enemy.
The invading Cavaliers were led by fifth-year senior Devon Hall, the only other warrior approaching the agelessness and power of Carter. Hall blunted the orcish onslaught of West Virginia in the game's early minutes just enough to keep the Cavaliers from routing. Twice he drove into the enemy's midst and dished to Mamadi Diakite who hit a bucket and three field goals for five life-saving early points. Then Hall took up the scoring load himself with a three-point basket and a valiant thrust to the rim and-one.
With Hall and Diakite filling the gaping hole in the middle of the Virginia line, Isaiah Wilkins was on the flanks breaking assaults with hard hedges, grabbing strong rebounds and protecting his rim. Nigel Johnson came in for the fallen Kyle Guy and harassed Carter enough to sow confusion in the Mountaineer ranks. After it looked like Virginia was going to get routed early, those five led the Cavaliers to a 15-14 surge at the 8:00 time out.
Hall had 11 points at the half and Diakite 7, combining for 18 of Virginia's 26 measly points. Guy was knocked off his horse early and his foot stuck in the stirrups, his panicked steed dragging him all over the field and bouncing his head off rocks and boots until somebody mercifully shot the horse and dragged Guy to a safe spot away from the action.
De'Andre Hunter came into the game and battled Carter for several minutes, visibly bothering the Mountaineer with his defense. Dre was part of that unit that gave the Cavaliers some stability through the middle part of each half. Carter could get nothing good against Hunter, but showed his greatness with a nasty stepback jumper and some wily veteran tricks that drew two fouls on the youngster and forced Bennett to make a change. The young Cavalier could not get his outside shot to drop but showed his cool with 3-4 from the free throw line.
West Virginia was able to push the Cavalier line back late in the first half and the first part of the second was as brutal as the beginning of the game. A Carter steal, three and pair of free throws later and it was back to a 7-point game with the Cavalier line wavering.
And there was Kyle Guy, last seen picking his teeth out of the back of his throat under the cover of a boulder, suddenly jumping onto the battlements and slinging arrows like Legolas at Helm's Deep. Swish-Swish-Boom! Just like that he torched the Mountaineers and shot Virginia into a 41-39 lead with his own 9-0 run - all on assists from his general, Devon Hall.
And who answered? Yup. Carter dropped a 3-bomb that put West Virginia right back on top and then a few minutes later the Mountaineers were seemingly in control once again at 51-45 with the Cavaliers in disordered retreat.
But LeGuylas wasn't done. Three more twangs of his sylvan bow knotted the score at 56. West answered, though, with a 2 and a 3 and once again the 'Neers appeared on the verge of clearing the field. It was 61-56 and there were only three minutes left.
The Cavaliers had one more charge in them. Ty Jerome had assisted Guy's second barrage with a pass and a layup, and now he stepped up and nailed a corner three to make it 61-59. When an epic West Virginia possession that included an offensive rebound and two missed threes ended with Guy chasing down a long rebound, Virginia had the ball down just two and 2:34 still to play. One more Kyle Guy arrow and the invaders could actually do this!
It was not to be, of course, as the Mountaineer defense stiffened and left Virginia no choice but to foul Carter. His free throws sealed it, and victory was his.
West Virginia shows you what you're made of, because they keep coming at you. They are unrelenting, all over the floor. Who else presses you AFTER you steal the ball from them? And yet that's what they did once, and it almost surprised Jerome into giving it back. But that's West Virginia basketball. In the end, this Cavalier team had mettle, just not quite enough grit to grab the initiative. It was West Virginia's throttling of the Hoos at the beginning of each half that gave them the high ground they never surrendered.
But Virginia didn't surrender, either, and you see this game paying dividends down the road. Everybody had moments they should remember and moments they will want to forget. Watching Kyle Guy become so thoroughly unglued so quickly, then put it back together so seemingly miraculously and be so sensational in that hostile arena that was mocking and heckling him from before the opening tip just leaves you with a real good feeling about this team.
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