West Virginia Wins Big East With Another Dramatic Finish
NEW YORK -- Before the season began, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said this was the most versatile team he had ever coached. Not the most talented, mind you, but the most versatile.
He said he wouldn't know which was better -- being more versatile or having more talent -- until March.
Huggins got his answer Saturday night.
The Mountaineers defeated Georgetown 60-58 on Da'Sean Butler's twisting layup with 4.2 seconds remaining for the Big East tournament championship. It was the first Big East tournament title in school history and, quite possibly, earned WVU its first NCAA tournament No. 1 seed as well.
"That was a Da'Sean shot," West Virginia's Kevin Jones said. "None of his game-winning shots have been pretty, but they've all gone in."
It was Butler's second game-winner in the Big East tournament and sixth this season.
"Everyone knew he was going to take it," Huggins said.
With the game tied 58, following a timeout with nine seconds remaining, Devin Ebanks inbounded the ball to Butler near midcourt. Butler raced past an oncoming Greg Monroe and headed down the lane, where he tossed in a twisting layup over the outstretched arms of Austin Freeman.
"I came up to the top of the key and I had to come get the ball and they kind of switched," Butler said. "I think (Monroe) had a feeling I was going to shoot a 3. I had a little hesitation, went around him and Freeman stepped up and had a little hop-step, scooped the layup off the glass and it fell."
Georgetown's Chris Wright then drove the length of the court, but his off-balance running layup hit the bottom of the rim at the buzzer.
The Mountaineers' win could also mean they'll have a No. 1 by their name when the seedings for the NCAA tournament are released Sunday night. At least according to the Mountaineer fans, who were chanting "No. 1 seed! No. 1 seed!" as WVU received the championship trophy at midcourt.
The Mountaineers (27-6) played the nation's third-toughest schedule, rank No. 4 in the RPI, defeated nine Top 50 RPI teams, including five Top 25 RPI teams, and won the nation's toughest league tournament.
"I don't know how we're not a No. 1," Huggins said.
Like each of the Mountaineers' three wins in the tournament, this one wasn't easy. West Virginia's three tourney wins were by two, three and two points.
Against eighth-seeded Georgetown (23-10), the third-seeded Mountaineers did not make a field goal in the final 7:30, until Butler's game-winner. In the final 7:30 before the Butler did it, West Virginia missed seven consecutive field goals, but made all six free throws.
"I wish we would make some shots," Huggins said. "I think it would be a little easier. We are what we are. If the day comes we're going to lose in the next few weeks, we're going down swinging."
WVU guard Joe Mazzulla, 0 for 6 from the field, but 6 for 6 from the free-throw line along with seven assists, said the Mountaineers have learned to win however is needed.
Remember, their versatility?
"We're starting to realize our identity is we're not going to score 80-90 points a game and outscore teams," Mazzulla said. "We're going to grind it out. We could play a game in the 70s or do like we did this whole tournament and play games in the 50s. It just comes down to knowing our identity, which is defense and rebounding."
And if they ever make some shots, what will happen?
"You can definitely say that we should be a lock for the Final Four," Ebanks said.
Butler had 20 points to lead the Mountaineers, who had nine players play at least five minutes. Jones added 12 points and Wellington Smith had 11 points and 10 rebounds.
"From the starters to the bench, everybody contributed," Jones said. "When the starters got tired, Cam [Thoroughman] and Deniz [Kilicli] and John [Flowers] just came in there and did a great job contributing.
Wright had 20 points and seven assists for the Hoyas. Freeman added 14 points, including two late clutch 3-pointers that rallied Georgetown from a six-point deficit. However, Monroe, the 6-foot-11 center, who nearly had a triple-double in each of the Hoyas' last two wins, was limited to 11 points, six rebounds and three assists.
"I was trying not to let him catch the ball," Smith said. "Try to deny as much as I can. He's the engine that runs their team."
The engine that runs West Virginia is Butler. And like the Mountaineers' other four starters, they're all from the New York area: Brooklyn, Mount Vernon and Long Island City, N.Y., and Newark and Summit, N.J.
They all necessarily didn't escape New York as much as they wanted to go to West Virginia and play in the Big East for Huggins, a West Virginia graduate.
"Our families and friends are here," Butler said. "That's good and everything. But we kind of wanted to win this for our state first, because the people there love us so much and they support us so much. I definitely know it means the world to them. We have a lot of people depending on us to do a lot. That was our main concern, not letting the state down."
When Wright's final shot wouldn't go down at the buzzer, the basketball bounced to Butler. He then launched it underhand toward the ceiling where it ricocheted off the scoreboard video board and bounced into the stands.
Seconds later "Country Roads" by John Denver was blaring throughout Madison Square Garden.
Start spreading the news: Almost heaven, West Virginia.
West Virginia assistant Larry Harrison remembers when he came to Morgantown with Huggins three years ago.
"For three years these guys have all talked about coming back to New York and winning it all," Harrison said. "For three years, we've talked about hanging banners and winning championships."
And now here they all were in Madison Square Garden singing "Country Roads" with a loyal following of Mountaineers fans throughout the arena.
"Unbelievable isn't it?" Harrison said. "When I first heard that song three years ago I thought 'what kind of song is that?' Now I know: it's a great song."
Great song. Better team. Pretty versatile, also.
Contact FanHouse senior writer Brett McMurphy at email@example.com.