INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – (March 21, 2021) — In the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament, the No. 3 seed West Virginia Mountaineers were upset by No. 11 seed Syracuse, as the Orange controlled the majority of the game.
“I thought we did a pretty good job at getting back in the game,” WVU head coach Bob Huggins said. “Then, I think we took a two-point lead and we kept switching when we shouldn’t have switched. We needed to keep the same guy.”
Syracuse (18-9, 9-7 ACC) started hot out of the gates, highlighted by guard Joseph Girard III, who scored 3-threes in the opening run. The Orange started out leading, 24-10. From there, the Mountaineers were trying to play keep-up.
The Orange were able to keep the lead steady, until the 4-minute mark at the end of the first half. West Virginia went on a 13-5 run to end the half and head into the locker room trailing by six.
Out of halftime, Syracuse took a double-digit lead early on. We’ve seen this movie way too many times. West Virginia loves to play behind in the second half, just to come back and complete a great victory.
It looked that way with guard Sean McNeil giving the Mountaineers some energy to work with, as the junior hit 5-threes in the half. McNeil’s third three of the half gave West Virginia its first-and-only lead. WVU gave up the lead right back to Syracuse with eight minutes to play.
From there, the Orange brought their lead up to double-digits again, with a Quincy Guerrier basket. Once again, the Mountaineers weren’t going to lay down and take the loss. With two minutes of play, WVU brought out ‘Press Virginia’ and was able to bring themselves quickly back into the game, trailing by two at one point.
In the end, it was Syracuse guard Buddy Boeheim who knocked down a free throw to make it a three-point game. Boeheim missed the second but WVU guard Miles “Deuce” McBride traveled with one second left, as he was trying to avoid two Orange defenders. Syracuse escaped 75-72.
McNeil finished with 23 points on 8-of-15 shooting, as the junior made 7-threes against Syracuse’s two-three defense. McNeil was the most valuable offensive player on Sunday, as he gave WVU multiple sparks of offense when they really needed it.
Emmitt Matthews had a good game, finishing with 14 points and seven rebounds. Matthews—a Tacoma, Washington native—scored a crucial basket with 40 seconds to go to bring the deficit down to four.
There was a lot of non-efficient shooting from the Mountaineers, with Derek Culver (2-of-9) and Taz Sherman (4-of-12), but Culver and Sherman were having their struggle against the zone.
After all the adversity the team has dealt with this year, Huggins reflected on what he will remember the most about this year’s team.
“Well, they’re good people. That’s what I just told them in the locker room. They’re as good of people as I’ve had a privilege of being around in all my years of coaching,” Huggins said. “They’re really good guys. They’re good guys, they care about each other. They really are a team. I think I’ll remember just how good of people that they were and will continue to be, I’m sure.”
As the Syracuse Orange will move onto the Sweet 16, the West Virginia Mountaineers will start their off-season, figuring out a few things before they look to get back on the court next season.
(Top Photo: Joe Robbins/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)