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January 16, 2013

Mountaineers lose heartbreaker to Iowa State, 69-67

After being down by as much as 17 points in the second half, the West Virginia Mountaineers clawed and fought their way back to a tie ballgame Wednesday night at Iowa State. But in the end the Mountaineers would drop a heartbreaker, as a Cyclone's layup in the final seconds gave the home team a 69-67 win.

West Virginia managed to get the best of a normally fast-paced Cyclones squad early on, slowing down an Iowa State squad averaging over 82 points-per-game in an effort to control the tempo.

With a starting lineup consisting of Dominique Rutledge, Kevin Noreen, Jabarie Hinds, Gary Browne and Eron Harris, West Virginia displayed disciplined defense and solid rebounding en route to a 5-0 lead within the game's first four minutes.

It would not take long for Bob Huggins to adjust his game plan and speed up the action slightly for the Mountaineers, while slowing the Cyclones into their hands. A rare dribble-drive across the baseline from Deniz Kilicli, showcased a dose of agility from the big man, driving around two Cyclone defenders before tossing up a beautiful layup from underneath the basket for two. The basket would shift the style of play for the Mountaineers briefly into a more fast-break oriented offense.

The squad continued to experiment with the fast-break style of play which provided them decent success in early season games, running the offense through Jabarie Hinds. The sophomore from Mount Vernon, NY would connect on fast-break transition layups on three of the next six series for the Mountaineers.

But the Cyclones would not stay down for long from the field. With an arsenal full of hot-handed shooters, Iowa State would go four of nine from three during the open part of the half, cutting into West Virginia's lead, 14-12, with nine minutes remaining in the half.

West Virginia would continue to attack Iowa State in transition, with Gary Browne driving the lane between a swarm of Cyclone defenders for an impressive leaning layup.

Despite his best efforts, however, Browne was one-upped by the efforts of Iowa State's Will Clyburn on the ensuing possession. The Cyclone guard utilized his impressive speed and leaping ability, blowing by a West Virginia defender and driving for a backward slam dunk over Kevin Noreen. The dunk pulled the Cyclones to within two, 16-14.

While the dunk represented Iowa State's first two-point basket of the game in an impressive fashion, the Cyclones would not return inside the arc that often. Another highlight reel dunk by Clyburn, thanks to an alley-oop pass from teammate Korie Lucious, proved to be the second of only four two-point field goals for Iowa State in the half.

But the need for an inside game was not necessary for Iowa State in the first half. The Cyclones rattled off six three-pointers off of 16 attempts in the first half, including four within the first 10 minutes of the contest.

On the contrary, the Mountaineers failed to find any consistency from the field, going 10-29 in the first half, including a disastrous 0-10 from three.

Although the headaches from behind the arc were glaring, the Mountaineers managed to stick with the offensive firepower of Iowa State thanks to a solid dribble-drive game - the offense Coach Huggins has been emphasizing recently - and from second-chance opportunities.

Playing aggressive in the paint and off the ball, the Mountaineers managed to draw certain Iowa State players out of their comfort zone, leaving open lanes at times for open layups. This aggressive style of basketball kept the Mountaineers in the game, with the Cyclones holding a 29-26 lead at the half.

It would be much of the same to open up the second half for the Mountaineers, with missed three pointer from Hinds resulting in a quick transition basket by Iowa State to push their lead to five; the largest of the game. This quick sequence agitated Coach Huggins, who would call his first timeout of the half after only 40 seconds of play.

But the timeout did little to help out the Mountaineers. The highly-ranked, highly-touted Cyclones squad came into their own to begin the second half, forcing a number of West Virginia turnovers and attacking the Mountaineers in transition, putting up a 10-2 run to open the half. The run would push the Cyclone's lead to 11 - 39-28 - at the under 16:00 media timeout.

The Mountaineers would go scoreless for six minutes before Kilicli knocked down a 19-foot jump shot to put the Mountaineers at 30 points.

But the basket would do little to swing momentum in West Virginia favor in even the slightest manner. The Cyclones continued to roll on offense, scoring though all styles imaginable, while the Mountaineers continued to struggle all-around. A three-point basket for the Cyclones at the 12:00 mark by Iowa State's Melvin Ejim gave the Cyclones a 47-30 lead, forcing a Huggins timeout.

West Virginia's long three-point drought finally died coming out of the timeout, with Eron Harris nailing an open look beyond the arc, improving the Mountaineer's three-point percentage to 7.7 percent (1-13). The three cut the lead to 14 for the Mountaineers, with Iowa State leading 50-36 with just over ten minutes remaining in the half.

The three gave West Virginia a bit of life, shift confidence into the Mountaineer's favor from behind the arc. Three point attempts from both Hinds and Matt Humphrey cut the Iowa State lead to nine with six minutes remaining.

In particular, the efforts of Humphrey proved to be the biggest surprise of the night. The senior transfer from Boston College had not played since Radford in late December. But an injury to Terry Henderson thrusted Humphrey into the lineup late in Ames. The senior would respond with two-straight three-pointers to help spark a comeback run for the Mountaineers.

Another three by Harris, thanks to three-straight fouls from the Cyclones, cut Iowa State's lead to seven, capping off an impressive 11-0 run for the Mountaineers.

Harris would continue to be the catalyst for West Virginia in the comeback attempt, hitting another key three minutes later, bringing the Mountaineers to within six points with under four minutes remaining. Strong defense from West Virginia, rattling the Iowa State offense, and the string of threes from the Mountaineers placed West Virginia at a manageable 60-54 deficit at the final media timeout.

Exiting the timeout, it would be Harris yet again carrying the Mountaineers in an improbable comeback. The freshman continued his hot shooting, nailing another three from the top of the key. The basket extended the Mountaineer's strong 24-10 run, closing the Cyclone's lead to a mere three points - 60-57.

A couple fouls by the Mountaineers in the double-bonus put Iowa State at the line, allowing them to push the lead back up to seven with just under two minutes remaining.

But the Mountaineers would not go down quietly. A pair of threes by Harris and Humphrey kept West Virginia in the contest, but down by three with a minute remaining. A big stop on defense, holding the Cyclones to a shot clock violation, gave the Mountaineers one more shot to tie the game with 25 seconds remaining.

And continuing their streak from behind the arc, the Mountaineers answered. With 14 seconds remaining, Hinds faked a drive from the corner, sending the defender off his feet, and opening the guard up for an open three.
After being down as much as 17 points in the second half, the Mountaineers had tied the game.

But there would be no celebrating in the end. Despite the fantastic effort by the Mountaineers in the comeback, Iowa State's Georges Niang would slip past defenders for the open layup with five seconds remaining, effectively ending the game.

Final score: Iowa State 69, West Virginia 67.

The Mountaineers were led in scoring by Jabarie Hinds with 20 points and Eron Harris with 17. Both Hinds and Harris helped spark West Virginia with six combined three pointers in the second half alone.

Matt Humphrey, in his first game in almost a month, also proved to be vital for the squad during the second half comeback, nailing 3-4 from three, adding nine points to the total.

West Virginia also showcased much-needed help from beyond the arc during the comeback run. After starting out the game 0-12 from three, the Mountaineers rallied to hit nine of their next 12 three point attempts in the final 12 minutes of the contest.

The Mountaineers will play again this Saturday in a non-conference matchup at Purdue. Tipoff is at 2pm on CBS.

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