Gophers bury WVU
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - The hot hand that Casey Mitchell had on Friday in the second round of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off turned into a full-blown fever in the opening minutes of Sunday night's championship game.
The problem was, it wasn't infectious to the rest of the team.
Mitchell poured in a game-high 27 points, but no other West Virginia player reached double figures. That lack of support proved critical down the stretch and enabled Minnesota to hold on for a thrilling 74-70 victory.
Other than a 3-pointer by Kevin Jones, Mitchell was the only West Virginia player to make a shot from the field in the final eight minutes of the game.
So with the Golden Gophers leading 73-70 in the final seconds, there was no question who was going to take the potential game-tying 3-pointer for the Mountaineers. Minnesota knew it as well, and Al Nolen had skin-tight coverage on Mitchell's shot, which bounced long off the rim.
Gerald Armelin sank a free throw with 4.5 seconds left to make it a four-point lead.
"Casey Mitchell was having a field day," Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said. "You knew he was going to be their go-to guy at the end. Al did a good job challenging the shot."
Nolen also led the Gophers in scoring with 17 points, including 11-of-12 from the free-throw line. Tournament most valuable player Trevor Mbakwe added 16 points and seven rebounds for the Gophers (5-0).
Blake Hoffarber scored 12 points, all in the second half. His 3-pointer with approximately a minute to play broke a 70-all tie and gave Minnesota the 73-70 it held until the final seconds.
Despite his lofty point total, it was a frustrating game for Mitchell, who scored 16 of the Mountaineers' first 20 points but was unable to hit the key shot at the end.
"It took a while for some of the other players to get into the game," Mitchell said. "By that time, [Minnesota] had momentum. I thought our effort was great at the end, but we waited too late.
"We didn't get a good screen on [Nolen] on that last shot and he stayed with me, and I had to shoot a contested shot. It was on line, but I felt like I shot it a little too hard when I let it go."
Mitchell, who has named to the all-tournament team, scored 16 points in the first eight minutes of the game, including a flurry of three consecutive 3-pointers in barely a minute, to propel the Mountaineers (3-1) to a 20-11 lead.
But the Golden Gophers did not flinch. Instead, they responded with a quick 6-0 run of their own, cutting the lead to 20-17 at the midway point of the first half.
Then after a basket by John Flowers, Minnesota ripped off eight consecutive points, capped by a steal and dunk by Colton Iverson, giving the Gophers a 25-22 lead six minutes before halftime.
Mitchell answered with a smooth turnaround jumper, and then he finally received some help from Cam Thoroughman, who scored two baskets to give West Virginia a 31-29 lead.
Back came the Gophers. This time it was Armelin who made two consecutive baskets, giving Minnesota a 33-32 halftime lead.
The second half was more of the same, with both teams trading mini runs and trying to grab some game-deciding momentum. Hoffarber sank three 3-pointers to spark a 13-5 run that gave Minnesota a 50-42 lead with 13 minutes left.
West Virginia rallied with an 11-3 run, with five different players scoring, to tie the game at 53 midway through the second half.
The teams then traded the lead five times over the next three minutes (with one tie thrown in) before the Gophers finally gained some breathing room with an 8-2 run, sparked by six consecutive points from Iverson.
Trailing 66-62, the Mountaineers battled back once again. Four points from Mitchell and a 3-pointer by Kevin Jones tied the game 70-70, before Hoffarber hit what proved to be the game-winning shot.