The WVU basketball team punched the first ticket to the Sweet 16 after handling the Notre Dame Fighting Irish 83-71 in Saturday’s second round NCAA Tournament match-up.
It was a thing of beauty for Mountaineer fans. After hearing from every person on TV with an opinion about the game, it was time for the players to set the record straight. Charles Barkley liked West Virginia, though, which was enough confidence for me.
The Mountaineers blitzed out to a 10-0 lead thanks to a pair of triples and some all-too-familiar press defense. Jevon Carter, the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, led the charge for WVU with one of the best individual performances you’ll see all tournament. He finished with 24 points on 8-of-15 shooting, including 4-of-5 from three. Daxter Miles, Jr. was second on the team in scoring with 18 points, including a 7-for-8 clip from the free throw line.
West Virginia shot 50 percent from the field as a team and made an incredible 8-of-14 three pointers (57 percent). The most-impressive shooting stat for WVU came from the charity stripe, though. We mentioned how Notre Dame was one of the top free-throw shooting teams in the nation, but it was West Virginia who made 21-of-26. Four of five starters were in double-figures because of this great shooting performance, too. Along with Carter and Miles, Elijah Macon and Esa Ahmad each scored 11 while grabbing four and nine rebounds, respectively. Senior Nathan Adrian was the only starter in single digits, but his impact was felt in every other area possible. He only scored three points, but grabbed five rebounds (two offensive), dished out four assists, had one steal and a block. He routinely makes plays like this.
The turnover battle was supposed to be one of great importance to the outcome between West Virginia and Notre Dame. In the 1st half, the Irish had as many turnovers against WVU (6) as they did their entire first round game against Princeton. Surely the Mountaineers couldn’t keep this up in the 2nd half, right?
Wrong. Eight 2nd half turnovers pitted the Irish in unfamiliar territory.
They kept things close thanks to an unexpected performance from Bonzie Colson. The junior played virtually the entire contest in foul trouble, but couldn’t be slowed by West Virginia. He scored 27 points on 10-of-15 shooting, including 4-of-5 from three-point range. Only one other Notre Dame player reached double-figures, though; Steve Vasturia scored 11. Notre Dame’s 10 three-point makes and perfection from the free-throw line (17-of-17) kept things interesting, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Bob Huggins’ confident bunch. The ‘Eers won the rebounding battle again too, this time with a 34-28 advantage. Ten of those came on the offensive glass, a number they’ll hope to replicate in the Sweet 16.
West Virginia is the first team to punch their ticket to the Sweet 16 and will meet Gonzaga in San Jose. Gonzaga is the No. 1 seed in the West Region and defeated the No. 8 Northwestern Wildcats to meet WVU. The Sweet 16 match-up will be on Thursday, March 23, with the time of the game yet to be announced.