MORGANTOWN - The fans at the Notre Dame-West Virginia hoops game were treated to an entertaining contest Wednesday at the Coliseum.After shooting but 24.1 percent from the floor and 9.1 percent (1-of-11) from beyond the 3-point arc in the first half, the homestanding Mountaineers made an 8-0 run to tie the game. Kevin Jones' bucket at the 7-minute mark brought the home fans alive after the Irish led 26-16 at the half.While the WVU fans eventually watched their team fall, however, many in the media were watching two men not named Jones or Truck Bryant or Deniz Kilicli.One of those watched was WVU athletic director Oliver Luck, who sat in a corner, entertaining donors. One was university president Jim Clements, who sat on the front row behind the team.Because behind the scenes much was going on.On the eve of ordered mediation between WVU and the Big East, numbers were flying. One report had WVU offering $11 million to settle litigation. The Gazette confirmed that's what the school is willing to pay. One report had the Big East set to accept $20 million. That might be the final number when the Big 12 pitches in.All officials were skittish to talk because of court orders. Of course, WVU is suing the Big East; the Big East is suing WVU. All involved, however, know the Mountaineers are bolting for the Big 12. Now.Is it a nice, seamless exit? Absolutely not. The school isn't scoring brownie points nationally these days, leaving the Big East before the 27 months stipulated in the conference bylaws. Ditto the shedding of the Florida State contract looks bad. There might be damages to pay there.This, however, is the price of conference realignment: nasty situations. WVU didn't start the merry-go-round. But it apparently felt it needed to jump off that of the Big East. And, skinned knees be darned, it is doing so.
nnWhen Notre Dame entered Wednesday's game, the hope for the home fans was a victory that would buoy the Mountaineers. A WVU win was needed after a tough stretch, the highlight of which was a three-point overtime victory over Providence, the last-place team in the Big East.It was not to be. Again.After taking a late lead, the Mountaineers got loose with the basketball, turning the ball over on three crucial trips, and the Fighting Irish got hot.With its NCAA tournament hopes falling, West Virginia allowed an 11-0 run late. A 45-42 advantage turned into a 55-51 loss.It was somewhat baffling. Fighting Irish guard Jerian Scott hit the hosts with a shot to the chin from 24 feet out, giving the visitors a 48-45 lead.And the Mountaineers simply folded.
"We really defended," said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, "when we had to."Give the Irish credit. Notre Dame is on a roll. Brey's team has now won five straight.But Wednesday's game was close to a must-win for the Mountaineers. Truck Bryant picked a terrible time to have another terrible night, finishing 0-for-6 from the floor and with zero points. WVU's 16-9 record is looking a lot worse than Notre Dame's 16-8 record.Now WVU has No. 24 Louisville at home on Saturday, then at Pitt, at Notre Dame, No. 18 Marquette and DePaul at home, with the finale at South Florida.The question is, can the Mountaineers reach 19 wins?Coach Bob Huggins has some work cut out for him.Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.