Mountaineers clinch Sweet 16 berth with win over Notre Dame
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Don’t be fooled by the Mountaineers referring to themselves as “Press” Virginia as a result of their relentless defensive pressure.
This team can score.
Led by Jevon Carter’s 24 points, the Mountaineers outshot the Fighting Irish in an 83-71 win on Saturday to clinch their third Sweet 16 berth since 2010.
“They thought of us as defensive players,” guard Tarik Phillip said. “But the coaching staff instilled a lot of confidence in us, helped us develop our offensive game, and we became pretty good offensive players.”
West Virginia entered the tournament leading the nation in forcing 20.4 turnovers, while also ranking 15th in averaging 82 points. The Mountaineers topped 80 points for the 18th time, while also breaking the single-season school scoring record set by the Jerry West-led 1958-59 squad.
Daxter Miles scored 18 points, and Esa Ahmad had nine rebounds.
Carter led the way in matching a season high, while going 8 of 15, including 4 of 5 in 3-pointers.
His last 3-pointer all but finished the fifth-seeded Fighting Irish (26-10) as they attempted one final comeback bid.
Notre Dame’s Matt Ryan hit a 3-point basket in the right corner to cut West Virginia’s lead to 72-66 with 3:06 left.
Carter responded by crossing through the middle and pulling up to hit a fall-away 3-pointer about 25 seconds later.
“Just staying confident,” said Carter, the Big 12′s defensive player of the year. “When we step on the court, we feel like we can beat them. We got hot early and kept going from there. We keep that chip on our shoulder.”
The Mountaineers continue to overcome the sting of last year’s first-round tournament collapse, when they lost to 14th-seeded Stephen F. Austin.
Now they’re off to the round of 16 for the first time since 2015, for the fourth time since coach Bob Huggins took over in 2007, and seventh time since the NCAA field expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
Notre Dame was denied a chance to reach the Elite Eight for a third consecutive year .
Bonzie Colson led the Fighting Irish in hitting 10 of 15 shots, scored 27 points and had eight rebounds. Otherwise, the rest of the teammates were stymied.
Guard Matt Farrell was limited to eight points, while V.J. Beachem hit 2 of 14 attempts and finished with 9 points.
Coach Mike Brey said the difference was Notre Dame falling behind 10-0 and eventually getting worn down from attempting to dig out of such a hole. The Irish did eventually cut the lead to 32-29 only to give up two baskets over a 20-second span in a game the Mountaineers never trailed.
“Any time we thought we’d get this thing to four or get it to two possessions, somebody hit a big 3 or they got a putback,” Brey said. “It’s really spirit-breaking after a while.”
Brey had to gamble in keeping Colson in after the star forward picked up his fourth foul with 9:47 left and with West Virginia up 59-47 Colson scored 10 of Notre Dame’s next 14 points over a 5-minute span.
“It’s horrible,” said Colson, whose shoulders were heaving in emotion as he left the court. “It’s frustrating when you try to play your tail off and play with everything you have and just leave everything out there.”
GONE COLD: Beachem hit a combined 3 of 23 attempts for 15 points in two tournament games. That was a significant drop off for a player who scored 70 points in propelling the Fighting Irish’s run to the Elite Eight. “I just wasn’t able to knock them down,” he said.
MOUNTAINEERS SCALE POINTS MARK: With Carter’s fade away 3-point basket that put the Mountaineers up 13-4 6:04 into the game, West Virginia upped its season total to 2,886 points and broke the school record set by the Jerry West-led Mountaineers in 1958-59. There’s an asterisk that goes with the record. The 1958-59 team scored 2,884 points in just 34 games in a season that ended with a loss to California in the national championship game. This year, the Mountaineers set the mark in their 36th game.
TURNED OVER: The Fighting Irish turned the ball over 10 times and trailed 42-35 at the half. Notre Dame had not committed double-digit turnovers in its previous nine games since a 13-turnover outing in an 84-72 win over Florida State on Feb. 11.
The Fighting Irish finished with just 14 turnovers overall.
HUGGINS LOVES BUFFALO: The Mountaineers coach improved to 4-0 in NCAA Tournament games in Buffalo. The Mountaineers opened their Final Four run in Buffalo in 2010. Huggins closed his news conference by referring to his success and saying: “Any time you want to invite us to come back, we’ll come back.”
West Virginia advances to play the winner of the game between top-seeded Gonzaga and eighth-seeded Northwestern in the third round at San Jose, California, on Thursday.
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