Alex Ruoff scorched the nets to the tune of 24 points on 9-for-16 shooting, and West Virginia reeled off a decisive 16-6 second half spurt, leading to the Mountaineers’ 79-68 victory over Notre Dame before a raucous 13,126 at WVU Coliseum last night.
This crass crowd littered the floor of the arena with 2:34 remaining, their reaction to a Luke Harangody foul.
A simple scrap for a loose ball between Harangody and Cam Thoroughman turned ugly. Fans felt Harangody got too physical and out of line during the play, and they clearly weren’t shy with their reaction. Warnings would surface, but no fan was ejected.
With the win, the fresh-faced Mountaineers closed within a half game of Providence. It’s beginning to look like a mud-wrestle for sixth place, in a Big East conference that’s got a surplus of talent.
Providence (16-10, 8-6) was cooked to the recipe of a 94-76 blood-lettering by Louisville. The Cardinals came roaring back from a one-point deficit at the intermission, and the Friars couldn’t withstand a wild second-half rally.
The WVU/ND game was projected to be the battle of the snipers, as two ballclubs who employ a brand of basketball similar to a Wild Wild West flick came out firing. Neither team, however, was too impressive from beyond the arc (Notre Dame shot 8-for-22 while WVU went 7-for-27), but Ruoff and a trio of New York-bred freshmen outhustled, out-toughed, and eventually clamped down on the Irish and the inside-outside tandem of Harangody and Kyle McAlarney.
The once dynamic duo combined for 38 points. The Irish, however, were negated by a 6 minute, 45 second scoring drought. It underscored a second-half power outage.
Ruoff, known simply as a trigger man the past three years, proved he’s upped his full offensive package. The senior busted out stepback jumpers, went to the hole, and had a huge putback – which cut Notre Dame’s early lead to one point – in the first half.
“He’s really worked. You have to give him tremendous credit,” said Mountaineers coach Bobby Huggins.
“He shot the ball really well today, but he hadn’t shot the ball well before. He’s found ways to score. He’s become more versatile. He’s become maybe our best defender – period.”
Freshman Kevin Jones, who hails from the rich basketball breeding grounds of Mount Vernon, N.Y. (see: Gordon, Ben) turned in a double-double with 12 points and 10 boards.
Jones wasn’t alone. Devin Ebanks, the ultra-long freshman from Long Island City, N.Y., scored 11 points and ripped down nine rebounds.
Huggins, who typically doesn’t like playing freshmen, has gotten solid production out of the three-headed monster of Jones, Ebanks, and Darryl “Truck” Bryant. Bryant, though, was a non-factor last night, as he went 0-for-7, contributing to WVU’s woeful shooting.
“I reminded them we can’t shoot so we have to rebound,” said Huggins.
“They were switching some things, which gave us some mismatches. We had some pretty good shots, but we didn’t make them. We weren’t in great position to rebound.”
The Irish, who have now lost eight of their last ten, couldn’t rebound from their second-half dry spell. They cut it to 64-59 following a 9-2 surge capped off by Harangody’s three-point play, but they couldn’t inch any closer.
Chants of “NIT” rang out across the arena in the final minute.
“A lot of teams would have given up right now, but that’s not us,” Harangody told USATODAY.Com. “There’s a lot of basketball still to be played.”
ND came out on all cylinders, jumping out with a 10-2 burst after McAlarney’s corner trey. West Virginia stormed back, as Ruoff drained a three and then a mid-range jumper completing a personal 7-0 run and pulling WVU to within four with 8:53 to go.
Ruoff’s aforementioned putback cut ND’s lead to 37-36 but Ryan Ayers – the son of Washington Wizards assistant coach Randy Ayers – drilled a 3-pointer to bump the Irish ahead, 40-36.
Moments later, Jones’ bucket deadlocked it at 40. Da’Sean Butler got into the paint for the go-ahead bucket, sending the Mountaineers into halftime with the momentum rolling.
Butler, who erupted for 43 points in a statement win over Villanova, finished with 19 points.
Harangody, the defending Big East Player of the Year, scored a game-high 26 points and pulled down 12 boards.