WVU basketball: Mountaineers fall short vs. No. 20 Gonzaga
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- On the festive kind of night the Coliseum hasn't seen too often lately, West Virginia had a 13-year home winning streak against ranked non-conference teams come to an end Tuesday while suffering its 14th straight loss to a ranked opponent.
A season-high crowd of 9,350 featuring about 3,500 students watched the Mountaineers build a 10-point lead in the second half, but let it disappear in the third loss to Gonzaga in the past 21 months. The 20th-ranked Bulldogs, who crushed WVU in the opening round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament and last season's opener, followed the bruising play of center Przemek Karnowski and timely scores from Kevin Pangos to an 80-76 win.
"This group of guys has won a large amount of games," Bulldogs Coach Mark Few said. "They have been in a lot of tough road environments and they're used to making plays at the end of tight games."
Pangos started 3-for-13, but made four straight shots in the game's decisive rally, including 3-pointers on three straight possessions, to finish with 18 points. The 7-foot-1, 295-pound Karnowski bullied his way around the floor and didn't pick up a foul until just 2:07 remained, but he'd served his purpose on the way to 19 point and 13 rebounds.
"I feel like (the officials) missed a few things," WVU forward Kevin Noreen said. "I was up in him on a rebound and got an elbow to the head that wasn't called. We were both fighting for the ball a few times and I ended up getting the foul. But that's the way things happen sometimes. The refs didn't affect the outcome of the game. We did, and you've got to play through those things."
Gary Bell, Jr., had 15 points and nine rebounds and Sam Dower, Jr., added 11 points, including a free throw with four seconds to go to prevent a possible game-tying shot.
Eron Harris scored just five of his game-high 23 points in the second half and also missed the front end of a one-and-one at the foul line with 1:15 remaining and WVU down 76-72. Juwan Staten added 17 points and nine rebounds and scored to make it 76-74 with 51 seconds to play, but Dower dunked in Bell's missed layup to rescue the Bulldogs with 33 seconds remaining.
Terry Henderson added 15 points and five rebounds and Devin Williams had seven points on 3-for-13 shooting and nine rebounds for WVU (6-4), which plays Marshall (4-5) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Charleston Civic Center.
The Mountaineers were 5-5 after 10 games last season, which ended with a 13-19 record, but have lost their games this season by a combined 25 points.
"I think we can beat everyone we've played," Coach Bob Huggins said. "Given a chance at the end of the year, I think we could beat anyone we'd play. At this point, we're going to continue to get better and better and better, but at the same time, we've got to win enough games to be able to do that at the end."
WVU's last win against a ranked team was 74-62 at home against No. 9 Georgetown in January 2012. The only longer losing streak to ranked teams in school history was a 20-game rut from 1971-82.
The Mountaineers had won their last five home games against ranked teams from outside their conference. The last such loss was in November 2000 against No. 7 Tennessee. WVU also fell to 37-2 in home non-conference games under Huggins.
The Mountaineers took a double-digit lead and forced Gonzaga (9-1) to take a timeout with 16:03 left to play. Staten made two free throws and then followed a missed layup by Pangos by ending a patient possession with a drive down the middle of the paint and a layup over the outstretched arms of Karnowski for a 51-41 lead.
Gonzaga scored twice to get within six points and had the ball, but Pangos continued to struggle when he lost the ball under the basket after getting loose on a cut behind WVU's defense. Remi Dibo answered with a jumper for WVU before the 6-9 Dower missed from close when he posted up Staten, who is eight inches smaller. Dibo had an open look at a 3, but missed everything and the Bulldogs scored on back-to-back possessions to make it 53-49 and force WVU to take a timeout.
The lead was back to eight points when Henderson's 3-pointer and free throw put the Mountaineers ahead 64-56, but Kyle Dranginis answered with a 3-pointer and David Stockton made two free throws to get Bulldogs as close as they'd been since the final possession of the first half.
Two free throws by Karnowski with 4:41 to go made it a 66-65 game and Pangos, the team's leading scorer, hit a deep 3 at the top of the key to take the first lead since it was 33-31 with 2:46 left in the first half.
Down 68-66, Harris and Staten missed on the next possession before Pangos hit another 3. Dibo missed a jumper in the paint and Pangos scored again as WVU retreated into a timeout down 74-66 with 2:18 to go.
"Everyone in the country knows when Gonzaga needs points, they go to Pangos," Staten said. "You can ask somebody who doesn't know basketball and if they watch Gonzaga they know Pangos is going to shoot the ball. It's unbelievable the five guys on the court didn't know he was going to shoot the ball."
The Bulldogs led 4-0 early, their largest lead of the first half, and WVU led 27-22 with 7:30 to go before halftime, its largest lead before heading to the locker rooms. The first half featured four ties and 13 lead changes. Staten's layup right before the buzzer sent WVU off the court ahead 39-35 with Harris doing most of the work.
After scoring a season-low six points on 3-for-6 shooting in Thursday's loss to Missouri, Harris was 6-for-10 from the floor and 4-for-6 from 3-point range for 18 points in the first half. His teammates were 6-for-12 from the floor and 2-for-11 from 3-point range.
Harris made a layup with 17:40 to go in the second half, but didn't take another shot for the next 10:02 and didn't score until his 3-pointer with 1:28 left made it 76-72. He was 2-for-5 in the second half.
"I didn't get the ball in the second half," Harris said. "That's why I didn't have the same second half."