Despite struggling from the free throw line late in the second half, West Virginia was able to hold on, defeating No. 15 UConn, 56-53 on Wednesday night at the WVU Coliseum.
The biggest storyline heading into tonight’s game was the status of senior guard Sean McNeil. McNeil proved valuable, scoring 13 first half points and sinking three late free throws, propelling West Virginia (8-1) to a victory.
West Virginia shot 12-of-27 from the free throw line, including 7-of-16 in the second half, but the Mountaineers were able to make them late and hang on for the win. McNeil came up big late, scoring all three of his second half points from the free throw line, with under a minute left in the game.
West Virginia opened the ballgame scoring on their first four possessions. McNeil got the Mountaineers rolling offensively, scoring West Virginia’s first four points. West Virginia took an early 9-5 lead after guard Taz Sherman knocked a three-pointer home.
After UConn (8-2) tied things up at 9-9, the Huskies were able to take advantage of a pair of West Virginia turnovers to take a 15-13 lead. Back-to-back three-pointers from McNeil and Sherman, gave West Virginia 16-15 lead.
After UConn retook the lead at 17-16, West Virginia’s offense ran through McNeil and Sherman for the remainder of the half. The pair combined to score 13 of West Virginia’s next 16 points. McNeil made a three-pointer as the Mountaineers took the lead back, and Sherman was able to make a pair of free throws as West Virginia closed the first half with a 32-29 lead.
The Mountaineer duo shot a combined 5-of-10 from three in the first half, and the two made 56.3% of their field goal attempts in the first half. Outside of McNeil and Sherman, the rest of the Mountaineers shot 2-of-10 in the first half.
UConn was led in the first half by forward Isaiah Whaley who had nine first half points. The Huskies were able to use West Virginia’s lack of size inside, as they finished with 16 of their 19 first half points from either a layup or a dunk. Even with UConn’s success on the interior, West Virginia was still able to take a 32-29 lead into the break.
The second half started out rough for both teams. Both teams combined for five turnovers in the first 4:14 of the half, with West Virginia getting out to a 38-33 lead, after Pauly Paulicap was able to get an layup, after Sherman dumped the ball down low.
UConn was able to respond with a pair of three-pointers from RJ Cole. Cole made a three-pointer from the right of the top of the key. After West Virginia had a miscommunication on the offensive end, Cole hit another three-pointer from the same spot, giving UConn a 39-38 lead.
After UConn took the lead, the Mountaineers could not sustain a possession on the offensive end. West Virginia went on a scoring drought lasting over six minutes, allowing UConn to go on a 10-0 run, and take a 43-38 lead. West Virginia forward Jalen Bridges made a corner three-pointer cutting the deficit to 43-41.
UConn led 47-43, forcing a West Virginia timeout, but the Mountaineers were able to tie things up after a Sherman layup and a Paulicap layup, tying things at 47-47 and forcing a UConn timeout with 6:42 remaining.
West Virginia’s poor free throw shooting allowed UConn to be able to get back into the game. Sherman and Bridges went 1-for-3 at the line, while UConn made 2-of-3 at the line, and took a 51-48 lead.
Guard Kedrian Johnson missed his second free throw, but got his offensive rebound, with Sherman tying things at 51-51 after a layup. Paulicap went to the free throw line, making one shot and giving West Virginia a 52-51 lead with 3:06 to play.
The West Virginia defense forced a 30-second violation on UConn’s next trip and then forced UConn into a three-pointer the Huskies could not convert on, holding West Virginia’s lead at one with 2:00 left.
With West Virginia still leading by one, the Huskies were able to not convert on the offensive end after getting two offensive rebounds. On the ensuing possession, Sherman got fouled while driving to the basket and made the first free throw, with Gabe Osabuohien getting the offensive rebound and sending McNeil to the free throw line with 17 seconds left. McNeil sank both free throws, giving West Virginia a 55-51 lead.
UConn was able to get a tip in on their possession, putting the West Virginia lead back to two points.
McNeil went back to the free throw line, making one of two, to push the West Virginia lead back to three. UConn’s Cole missed a three-pointer at the buzzer, sealing the 56-53 win for West Virginia.
West Virginia shot 39.6% from the field and made 37.5% of their three-pointers on the night, while UConn shot 39.3% from the field, but finished the game shooting 1-of-8 from the field.