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November 12, 2013

WVU blows 17-point lead en route to loss at VT

After leading early in the contest by as much as 17 points, the West Virginia Mountaineers could not finish the job against the rival Virginia Tech Hokies. Led by 22 points from Ben Emelogu, the Hokies rallied back from the deficit to defeat the Mountaineers 87-82 Tuesday afternoon in Blacksburg.

It took West Virginia over a minute to break through on the scoreboard, but once they did the Mountaineers moved quickly. In a unique environment (1pm tip-off in Blackburg), the Mountaineers took an early advantage with a 5-0 run, starting with a second-chance layup from Kevin Noreen off the rebound and ending with a Juwan Staten and-one completion.

The Hokies, however, would try to kill the early Mountaineer momentum on their home court with some theatrics of their own. Breaking through a lax West Virginia man defense, senior Hokies forward Cadarian Raines ignited the crowd at Cassell Coliseum with a monster slam in the paint, cutting his team's deficit to 5-2.

But the hope for a momentum shift was quickly thwarted by a strong West Virginia offense. Continuing his hot-shooting streak to open the season, freshman Nathan Adrian answered the Hokies and then some, connecting with an open three on the ensuing possession to extend the West Virginia advantage.

The Mountaineers would add a pair of layups from Eron Harris and Devin Williams, to give West Virginia an early 12-4 lead heading into the first media timeout.

Exiting the break it appeared that the Mountaineers were slow in returning to a comfortable rhythm. Strong post defense from the Hokies resulted in two-consecutive blocks against West Virginia shooters, allowing Tech to try and mount a comeback.

Four quick points for Virginia Tech pushed them to within six of the Mountaineers, before West Virginia turned up the offensive pace.

Spreading the floor with their hot-shooters, the Mountaineers took advantage of open driving lines with Staten and open shots behind the arc to take a 19-10 advantage into the proceeding media timeout.

From here, the Mountaineers continued to turn the heat up on the rival Hokies, going on a two minute, 10-0 run to push the lead up 26-10.

But the big story in this span was the offensive play of Gary Browne. Entering the season, Coach Bob Huggins singled-out Browne for his improved work ethic and offensive production.

And that hard work showed early in Blacksburg for Browne as the junior scored eight of the 10 West Virginia points in that span, including one second-chance three from the corner.

Browne also tallied an assist to Terry Henderson, the sophomore's first points of the season in his debut, to give West Virginia an impressive 29-14 lead at the third media break.

Following the timeout, the Hokie faithful in attendance finally had reason to cheer, with Tech breaking out for their first mini-run of the game. A wide-open three pointer from Ben Emelogu and driving layup by Devin Wilson cut the deficit to 13.

The Mountaineers would break the streak thanks to an extremely rare drive by Noreen from the top of the key. While it might not have looked pretty, Noreen's basket pushed West Virginia's lead forward 33-19 with five minutes remaining in the half.

In the final five minutes of the half, however, the Hokies would take over. A three pointer from West Virginia's Remi Dibo gave the Mountaineers a bit hope exiting the final media timeout, but Virginia Tech upped the tempo of play to the dismay of West Virginia.

A pair of layups by the Hokies and a three pointer from guard Aaron Smith cut the once 17-point West Virginia lead to nine with 1:34 remaining in the half.

The Mountaineers would have an opportunity to push the lead back into double-digits before half, but an off-target three by Henderson gave the Hokies one final shot.

Virginia Tech's Christian Beyer would get the rebound and relay to Emelogu in the frontcourt, where he would knock down a buzzer-beating three to cap off a 12-1 Hokie run. The score sent Tech into the locker room with momentum, but West Virginia maintained the lead, 41-36.

When both teams exited the locker room for the season half, a change in confidence was apparent. The Hokies continued to climb while the Mountaineers found no answers. After leading by 17 points at one point in the contest, West Virginia allowed Virginia Tech to climb back in with little to no resistance.

Opening up the half, Hokie senior Jarrell Eddie, who went scoreless in the first half connected with a quick layup to cut the deficit to three. This was followed one possession later, following a missed jumper by Harris, by a Smith three pointer tying the game at 41. It was the first tie of the game for the Hokies.

But the run for Virginia Tech would not stop there. On the ensuing possession, Adrian would foul Eddie on a three-point attempt. The senior knocked down three easy points from the charity stripe to take their first lead of the game, 44-41.

And the bleeding would not relent for West Virginia heading into the first media timeout. A three pointer by Dibo would give the Mountaineer a glimmer of hope, but physical play and tremendous offense by the Hokies pushed their lead further, giving a 51-45 lead at the first break.

Dibo would attempt to provide West Virginia another spark, connecting on his third three of the day to bring the Mountaineers within eight at one point, but it would be of little consolation as the Hokies continued on a 31-6 run.

The Mountaineers appeared to finally break the long slump with the help of Harris. The sophomore guard pulled up on a fast-break three pointer from the top of the key to cut the lead to within six, 58-52.

Behind the shooting of Browne and Dibo, West Virginia continued to chip away at Virginia Tech's advantage. Both shooters, who led the way for the Mountaineers offensively for much of the game, knocked down a pair of key three pointers, cutting Hokie lead to one. West Virginia would take the lead, 62-61, on the ensuing possession with a pair of Harris free throws.

But the Hokies would continue to play solid basketball on both ends of the floor. A three pointer by Emelogu, his third of the game, put Virginia Tech back on top 67-64 at the under eight minute media timeout.

Over the next four-minute period, the Mountaineers and Hokies would continue to swap ties and advantages. Browne would prove to be the rock for West Virginia on offense, connecting with another key three pointer to cut Virginia Tech's lead to one, 74-73 with five minutes remaining.

A layup by Harris and pair of free throws by Virginia Tech's Raines kept the gap at one heading into the final media timeout with 3:20 remaining.

The Mountaineers would take a brief lead coming out of the timeout thanks to a deep three from Adrian, but the Hokies would quickly fight back to take a three-point advantage. Virginia Tech held an 80-77 advantage with 1:34 remaining.

A dribble-drive layup by Staten cut the lead to one once again, but the Hokies again managed to roar back on the ensuing possession with an and-1 from Smith.

It appeared the Mountaineers were dead in the water until an open three from Dibo cut the lead to one once again. The Hokies maintained a one-point lead with 16 seconds remaining before West Virginia fouled Smith.

The Hokie guard would make a pair from the line, giving West Virginia one final attempt to tie the ballgame. A contested, off-target three attempt from Adrian would not fall, sending the Mountaineers home with a loss.

Final score: Virginia Tech 87, West Virginia 82.

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