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UConn West Virginia Basketballa

WVU’s Kedrian Johnson (0) defends against Connecticut’s R.J. Cole Wednesday in Morgantown.

MORGANTOWN — With the Mountaineers frigidly cold at the free-throw line, West Virginia finally found a way to use its misses to its own advantage.

And in the nick of time.

Two big-time offensive rebounds on missed foul shots in the final four minutes helped provide the difference as WVU picked up a signature 56-53 nonconference win over No. 15 Connecticut Wednesday night at the WVU Coliseum.

West Virginia made just 12 of 27 shots at the charity stripe (44.4%) and missed an abundance of crucial attempts down the stretch. But despite being outrebounded 35-31, both point guard Kedrian Johnson and forward Gabe Osabuohien found a way to corral misses when they mattered, and in a game in which both teams struggled to find offense, those plays loomed as large as any basket.

“Good to get the win,” WVU’s Sean McNeil said. “Basketball is a game of runs. They threw punches, we threw punches, luckily we just came out on top.”

The biggest play belonged to Osabuohien, who pulled down a rebound as Taz Sherman missed the second of two free throws with 21 seconds left. Osabuohien kicked back out to Sherman, who passed to McNeil, who was fouled with just 17 ticks left and WVU (8-1) leading by two.

McNeil hit both of his attempts to give West Virginia a four-point lead at 55-51. He’d hit one more foul shot after a UConn basket with seven seconds left and the Huskies’ RJ Cole missed a 3 as the horn sounded to finishing things off.

“That play right there is going to show up on the stat sheet as an offensive rebound but it’s way bigger than that,” Sherman said. “Without that offensive rebound, you don’t know what kind of game is next. That was a big-time play. Our bigs were playing today. They did a great job in my opinion.”

Due to injuries, the Huskies (8-2) were without second-leading scorer Adama Sanogo (15.6 points per game) and third-leading scorer Tyrese Martin (12.9), with the latter also serving as the team’s leading rebounder at 7.7 boards per game.

Both teams shot under 40% with UConn finishing 22 for 53 (39.3%) and WVU going 19 for 48 (39.6%). While the Mountaineers’ struggles followed them to the free-throw line, UConn’s struggles hurt most from distance, where the Huskies’ were 3 for 23 from the 3-point line.

Sherman finished with 23 points with McNeil adding 16 for the Mountaineers. Isaiah Whaley led the Huskies with 15 points followed by 14 from Cole and 10 from Andre Jackson.

After starting the game 1 for 13 from the 3-point line, Cole buried back-to-back triples to kick-start a 10-0 Huskies run, turning a five-point Mountaineer advantage into a five-point hole. West Virginia went scoreless for 6:14 as the Huskies surged ahead with four turnovers and a bevy of missed shots along the way.

Finally, WVU’s Jalen Bridges hit his first shot of the game on a corner 3-pointer, and from there the Mountaineers clawed all the way back, using a 10-4 spurt to inch back ahead at 49-48.

But, leading and with possession inside of five minutes to go, the Huskies notched back-to-back steals, one leading to a dunk for Jackson and the other resulting in a pair of Jordan Hawkins free throws to give UConn a 51-48 advantage with under four minutes to play.

Again, West Virginia rallied, appropriately enough thanks to a missed free throw. Johnson hit the front end of a 1-and-1, missed the second, but alertly grabbed a long rebound, leading to a layup for Sherman to tie the game at 51 with 3:38 remaining.

After a UConn turnover, Pauly Paulicap went 1 for 2 from the line, giving the Mountaineers a 52-51 edge with 3:06 left, a lead that the Mountaineers somehow made stick. That included a possession inside of a minute to go in which the Huskies pulled down four offensive rebounds but couldn’t get anything to go in.

The Mountaineers carried a 32-29 advantage into the halftime break thanks in large part to Sherman and McNeil, who each had 13 points on a combined 9 of 16 shooting, including 5 for 10 from 3-point range. The rest of the team went just 2 for 11.

Ryan Pritt covers WVU sports. He can be reached at 304-348-7948 or Follow him on Twitter