No. 4-seeded West Virginia outlasted No. 5 Notre Dame 83-71 in a battle of opposing strengths to start the second round of NCAA tournament play Saturday at the KeyBank Center in Buffalo, New York.
Led by an NCAA-best press defense, West Virginia hit timely shots and was led by Jevon Carter's 24 points. Five Mountaineers scored in double digits, as they feasted on a flustered opponent and shot 50 percent from the floor (27-of-54) and 57.1 percent from deep (8-of-14).
Notre Dame entered the game committing just 9.3 turnovers per game, which ranked No. 2 in the NCAA. West Virginia came in forcing 20.3 turnovers per game, which was the best mark by far in the NCAA.
Something had to give. Earning the nickname "Press Virginia," the Mountaineers forced 13 turnovers, flustering a normally composed Fighting Irish side. Bonzie Colson scored a game-high 27 points, even while flirting with foul trouble for most of the game. V.J. Beachem (14.7 points per game) was held to nine points on 2-of-14 shooting, including 1-of-9 from deep.
Unlike Colson, Carter had plenty of help, with Daxter Miles Jr. adding 18 points, Tarik Phillip contributing 12 and Elijah Macon and Esa Ahmad finishing with 11 apiece.
The two teams took similar paths to reach Saturday. West Virginia, ranked 24th in RPI by ESPN.com, didn't get the defensive performance it may have expected in an 86-80 win against 13th-seeded Bucknell, forcing 14 turnovers. Notre Dame, ranked 23rd in RPI by ESPN.com, slowed things down and benefited from bad shooting by 12th-seeded Princeton in a 60-58 win.
Saturday's first half was defined by runs. The Fighting Irish missed their first five shots and fell into a 10-0 hole.
But at the halfway point, Notre Dame seemed to find a groove:
Much to West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins' dismay, of course:
Huggins could rest a bit easier by halftime, though, as his team put together another spurt to make it 42-35. His defense had forced 10 turnovers—already more than the Irish's per-game average. Notre Dame stayed close only because it shot 50 percent from deep (4-of-8) in the first half.
Notre Dame got within four on two occasions early in the second half, but its three-point shooting came back to earth, and West Virginia met each challenge with an immediate answer.
This, of course, didn't hurt and summarized the game up to that point:
Pete Sampson of Irish Illustrated put it best:
Colson picked up his fourth foul with just under 10 minutes left, yet Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey kept him in the game—and the junior rewarded him with five straight points.
Notre Dame didn't look anything like its usual composed self, though, with Temple Gibbs earning a technical foul for slapping the ball out of Phillip's hands after a whistle.
The broadcast picked up another gem of a reaction:
Even a seven-minute field-goal drought by the Mountaineers didn't alter the course of the game despite the best (but solo) efforts of Colson. He added eight rebounds to his 27 points, but besides Steve Vasturia (11 points), no other member of the Fighting Irish scored in double digits.
West Virginia, in cruise control, topped off the game and punched a ticket to the Sweet 16 in style:
The Mountaineers will face either No. 1-seeded Gonzaga or No. 8 Northwestern on March 23.
The attention centered on the colorful Huggins.
At first, Huggins took a page out of Gregg Popovich's book, making for an awkward on-court interview:
A more loquacious Huggins met the media and praised Buffalo, according to Jay Skurski of the Buffalo News: "I love Buffalo. Any time y'all want to invite us to come back, we will."
No wonder. According to John Wawrow of the Associated Press, Huggins is now 4-0 in NCAA tournament games in Buffalo.
Of course, Huggins also commended his players, according to journalist Jeff Faraudo: "They win. It's never one guy. They compete like crazy."
Phillip, chiming in on a question aimed at Carter, said the Mountaineers have a "big chip" on their shoulder, per Wawrow's colleague Tom Withers.
Brey focused on the future, saying Colson plans to stay in school, per Tom Noie of the South Bend Tribune.
Brey also touted the Mountaineers as a team that "could play a long time in this tourney," according to John Antonik, West Virginia director of digital media.
Advanced metrics courtesy of ESPN.com.