By Ryan Decker, Originally written for West Virginia Illustrated
BUFFALO, NY – West Virginia (28-8) is back in the Sweet 16.
Jevon Carter led the way for the Mountaineers with a team-high 24 points in Saturday’s game against Notre Dame (26-10) in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
With Carter leading the way and three of the other four starters producing double-digit scoring games, West Virginia has earned a trip to San Jose with an 83-71 victory over the Fighting Irish.
“Did I know (the back court) were that good?” WVU head coach Bob Huggins asked rhetorically in response to a question. “I know this, they put an enormous amount of time in. They’re in the practice facility 12 months out of the year an, you know, it’s great when you don’t have to kind of tell people to go in there. They go in there.”
WVU jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead, scoring both inside and out, as Carter and Daxter Miles Jr. made 3-pointers on consecutive possessions after Elijah Macon and Esa Ahmad opened the game with a points in the paint.
Miles finished with 18 points, his highest point total since scoring 23 points against Iowa State in Morgantown last month.
Press Virginia troubled a normally careful Notre Dame team, which came into the contest averaging under ten turnovers per contest. The Irish coughed up the ball ten times in the first half and finished with 14 giveaways, the highest mark in over a month for Mike Brey’s club.
WVU scored eight points off those turnovers in the first half, taking a 42-35 lead into the break.
Carter scored 13 of his total points in the opening twenty minutes on 5-of-7 shooting from the floor.
“All year we’ve been telling ourselves that we got the best group of guards in the country, and we truly believe that,” Carter said. “So, when it’s time for us to play, we go out there and give it our all.”
For the second game in a row, Nathan Adrian dove to the hardwood to make a highlight play.
Adrian and Miles forced a loose ball off an inbounds pass, and the Morgantown-native dove to the floor and immediately shovel passed the ball to Miles, who gave it up to a streaking Ahmad, who finished the play with an emphatic slam dunk to give West Virginia a 48-39 lead.
Adrian tallied just three points, but put together another stuffed stat sheet, adding five rebounds, four assists a steal and block to his credit.
Notre Dame leading scorer Bonzie Colson was held in check for much of the first half, tallying just nine points. Colson would get going in the second half, and was instrumental in keeping the Irish within striking distance.
He scored eighteen of his game-high 27 points after halftime, but it was still not enough for the Irish.
West Virginia never trailed in the game, as Notre Dame failed to cut the deficit to any lower than three points.
Threes by Colson and Matt Farrell early in the second half pulled the Irish within four points, however, both were followed by 3-pointers on the other end by the Mountaineers to keep the lead in tact.
Ahmad and Macon each scored 11 points, and Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year Tarik Phillip added 12 off the bench. Ahmad also grabbed a team-high eight rebounds.
WVU has won the rebounding battle in each of its first two games of the tournament.
Brey commented on the Mountaineers’ toughness.
“The one thing about West Virginia that’s the same, when we played them back in the Big East and more so today, they got men,” said the Notre Dame head coach. “They have men. They have old dudes, and staying old is a good thing in college basketball. They’re a little older than us today.”
West Virginia advances to the Sweet 16 for the fourth time under Huggins, and the seventh time in school history. The four-seeded Mountaineers will play the winner of No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 8 Northwestern in San Jose, California on Thursday.