By Jeff White (

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — In the cauldron that is WVU Coliseum, the 15th-ranked University of Virginia men’s basketball team took the court Tuesday night looking to quiet the home fans and keep its unbeaten record impact.

That didn’t happen. No. 18 West Virginia fought off a second-half comeback led by sophomore Kyle Guy, who scored all 18 of his points in a stretch of little more than nine minutes, and secured a 68-61 victory before an ESPNU audience and an amped-up crowd of 12,816.

“We played well enough to be in there and have a chance,” Virginia head coach Tony Bennett said, “but not well enough in [key] stretches to come away with a win in this setting against that type of intensity and pressure.”

The loss stung the Wahoos. Still, spirits remained high afterward in the visitors’ locker room, senior forward Isaiah Wilkins said. “Nobody’s head is down. We’re going to learn from it.”

The experience, Bennett said, is “valuable, it really is, if we grow from it. We could be in a lot of those tough settings against talented teams … That’s why you play these non-conference games and series like this, to be in this [atmosphere] and try to respond.”

As they head into the exam break, the `Hoos (8-1) have wins over such non-conference opponents as Wisconsin, VCU, Vanderbilt and Rhode Island. A victory over WVU (8-1) would have been an impressive résumé addition for Virginia, and when Guy heated up in the second half, it looked possible.

A 6-2 guard, Guy missed his first six shots from the floor Tuesday night. But his seventh attempt, a 3-pointer from the left corner, cut the Mountaineers’ lead to 39-35 with 13:53 left, and each of UVA’s next two possessions ended with a Guy trey, too.

“He’s always a shot away from getting it going, and he’s such a threat,” Bennett said of Guy, Virginia’s leading scorer this season.

After Guy’s third 3-pointer put the Cavaliers up 41-39, WVU guard Jevon Carter answered with a trey that brought the home fans to their feet. Virginia rallied to take another lead, at 45-44, but again the 6-2 Carter answered, this time with a contested jumper over 6-7 redshirt freshman De’Andre Hunter.

Before the game, Carter was honored for setting the school record for career steals. He then went out and posted a spectacular stat line: 23 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and two steals.

“He’s a heck of a player,” Bennett said.

Twice in the final minutes Virginia tied the game on a Guy 3-pointer — first at 51-51 and then at 56-56 — only to see WVU respond at the other end. As clutch as Carter for the Mountaineers was 6-8 sophomore Lamont West, who matched his career high with 22 points. West, who came in shooting 27.5 percent from 3-point range, made 4 of 9 shots from beyond the arc, at least two of which were well-defended.

Late in the game, UVA guard Devon Hall said, the Mountaineers “executed, and we had some mishaps and turnovers. They executed well. That’s a good team.”

On a night when several Cavaliers struggled, Hall sparkled. The 6-5 fifth-year senior tied his career high with 19 points and added four rebounds, a season-high six assists and one steal. Against relentless pressure from WVU, Hall turned the ball over only once in his 36 minutes.

“You had two very seasoned veterans in Carter and Hall,” Bennett said. “Those are guys that have played a lot of times and seen a lot of basketball, and I thought Devon was terrific. Six assists, one turnover in that kind of game is impressive.”

Virginia finished with 14 turnovers. Sophomore point guard Ty Jerome shot the ball well — he was 3 for 4 from the floor and made his only 3-point attempt — but he had four turnovers, including two in the final 1:28.

“When you’re running the show out there against that pressure, it can wear on you, and you gotta be sound,” Bennett said. With Jerome, there was “some good, and some things he can improve on, for sure.”

The same was true for the Cavaliers overall.

“There’s definitely some positives,” said Wilkins, who rolled his ankle in the second half, an injury that limited his effectiveness. “We’ll clean up the little things and figure some things out.”

Bennett said: “This is the first time we’d been a little bit behind late in the game, and we responded for a while, and then [WVU] either hit a tough shot or we had a breakdown or we had a costly turnover. I saw some pluses and minuses in those [late-game] situations.”

Head coach Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers bolted to a 7-0 lead — redshirt sophomore Mamadi Diakite opened the scoring for UVA with two free throws at the 15:47 mark — and led for nearly 36 minutes Tuesday night.

“I think we just needed to settle down and calm down,” Guy said. “It’s a very hectic environment, and they were all in our [faces] all night. It was a good test for us, and I’m glad we did this early in the year.”

CATCHING FIRE: Guy, 0 for 6 from the floor at halftime, finished 6 for 17. He was 6 for 14 from beyond the arc.

“My teammates trust me and keep passing me the ball,” Guy said. “I felt like I shot way too much overall, but they kept feeding me and telling me to keep shooting, so that’s just what I did, trying to help the team.”

Bennett said Guy “got some pretty good looks in the first half — maybe a couple were a little rushed — but then he got some real clean looks in the second half, and I thought the guys did a good job of finding him.”

Hall said he knew Guy would break through eventually.

“Shooters shoot,” Hall said. “That dude’s got the utmost confidence in himself. If he passes up a jump shot, I’m going to be mad [at Guy] and everybody else on the team is going to be mad.”

BORDER WAR: When the series will resume is unclear, but this marked the third straight year UVA and West Virginia have met in December.

In 2015, at the Jimmy V Classic in New York City, the Cavaliers rallied for a 70-54 victory over the Mountaineers. Last year at John Paul Jones Arena, WVU rallied for a 66-57 win. That ended Virginia’s program-record 24-game home winning streak.

“I told Coach Huggins, and I wasn’t trying to kiss up or anything, I just said, `It’s an honor to play against him and his program,’ ” Bennett said Tuesday night. “We’ve had a great series, his teams are tough, they’re well-coached. He’s one of the best.”

Bennett said the 14,000-seat WVU Coliseum reminded him of a larger University Hall, which was the Cavaliers’ home before JPJ was built.

“These people know good basketball,” Bennett said of the Mountaineers’ fans. “They’ve been treated to a heck of a coach and a heck of a program. [This was a] very good atmosphere and good for our young guys to be in, and we’ve got to grow up and learn from it, because there’s a lot of those in the ACC.”

Asked about the series with WVU, Hall said, “I love playing against good, tough guys like those dudes. They come and bring it every single time, and they put their backs against the wall and just go out and play.”

STEPPING UP: With starting center Jack Salt ineffective, the 6-9 Diakite came off the bench and played 29 minutes, matching his career high. Diakite finished with nine points, five rebounds, two steals and two blocked shots and didn’t turn the ball over.

“Mamadi came in and gave us a lift,” Bennett said.

“He had a couple good buckets for us early and got us going,” Wilkins said. “His energy was good, and he played hard, and that’s what we ask of him.”

THEY SAID IT: The two head coaches held postgame press conferences, and several UVA players were later available for interviews. Among their comments:

* Huggins on Guy: “We’re always worried about him, but we let him get going. We stopped guarding him. I thought we did a great job early of making him take tough shots and to really work hard to get his shots. Then, for whatever reason, we forgot he was out there. He’s not a good shooter. He’s a great shooter.”

* Huggins on his team’s motivation: “We read an article that said we played a cake schedule up until then. I know Tony doesn’t feel that way, but we were going to be ready to play anyway. I think that got us a little more ready to play. All of that stuff helps.”

* Bennett on the Mountaineers’ defense: “Their pressure’s impressive, and they’re going to make you turn it over. But there were a couple turnovers we had that were unnecessary that led to baskets.”

* Hall: “This is a test that we needed, and we were grateful to have this test early against a good team. I think we’ve got to fix a few things.”

WHAT’S NEXT? Final exams start Thursday at UVA and end Dec. 15. The `Hoos return to action on Saturday, Dec. 16, against Davidson (4-3). Tipoff is set for 2 p.m.

That starts a four-game homestand for the Cavaliers.

Tickets remain available for the games against Davidson, Savannah State (Dec. 19) and Hampton (Dec. 22). To order tickets to those games online, click here.

At 9 a.m. Friday, a limited number of tickets will go on sale for the ACC home games against Boston College (Dec. 30), North Carolina (Jan. 6) and Syracuse (Jan. 9) . Starting today at 9 a.m., there will be a pre-sale for donors to the Virginia Athletics Foundation for tickets to those three ACC games.

Print Friendly Version