Mountaineers’ season ends in not-so-Sweet 16

BOSTON — With 3-point shooting that was timely and lethal, Villanova made another Sweet 16 turn sour for WVU.

Senior guards Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles couldn’t extend their careers as the Mountaineers lost, 90-78, on March 23, falling in the regional semifinals for the third time in four seasons.

“I felt like we gave it everything we had,” said Carter, who bowed out with another gritty effort of 12 points, eight assists and four steals.

Miles scored 16 points despite being curbed by foul trouble for WVU (26-11).

Jalen Brunson’s 27 points fueled the Wildcats (33-4), who committed 16 turnovers and trailed by six midway through the second half but never relinquished their poise.

“When we got down six, I saw they pulled together so we could grind it out,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “Great win for us because West Virginia is so good. That was the most physically demanding, mentally demanding 40 minutes we’ve played in a long time.”

While Wright’s experienced leaders — Brunson, Mikal Bridges and Phil Booth — earned their usual kudos, it was Villanova’s 6-foot-9 freshman, Omari Spellman, who kept exploiting Press Virginia’s gaps. He shot 4-of-7 from deep on his way to 18 points, part of the team’s 13-of-24 shooting from 3.

“He’s going to be a hell of a player,” said Mountaineers center Sagaba Konate, who wasn’t accustomed to chasing opposing big men to the perimeter.

WVU led, 60-54, after Carter’s steal led to a lay-up, but Villanova countered in rapid-fire fashion with an 11-0 run that required only 1:59. Brunson started the surge with four points, followed by a Bridges 3 in transition and Spellman’s putback dunk.

“We got caught in mismatches where Brunson was able to get it to his left hand and get the ball down the lane,” WVU assistant coach Ron Everhart said. “We had done a good job for about 30 minutes of preventing that from happening, but he started to get in that groove and he made us pay for it.”

WVU held a slight rebounding edge, 39-36, but shot only 39 percent overall to Villanova’s 50. The team that hoisted more 3s than any coached by Bob Huggins finished 7-of-28 from 3.

Over the final 14 minutes, WVU went particularly cold, missing 23 of 30 from the floor.

“We didn’t make open shots,” Huggins said. ”If you want to win in March, you have to make open shots.”

With many eyes focused on Brunson and Carter, the former AAU teammates had their share of head-to-head possessions. Brunson got loose for a 3 after Carter futilely pursued a rebound. Carter got revenge by beating an expiring shot clock with a fade-away jumper, part of a 10-0 run that put WVU up, 52-47.

The highest-scoring team in the country at 86 points per game, Villanova sank its first six shots, including 3s by Spellman and Bridges.

Press Virginia eventually dug in by forcing nine first-half turnovers, four by guard Donte DiVincenzo, who also committed three fouls in only six minutes of action. In one sequence, after DiVincenzo fell to the court while corralling a defensive rebound, he got to his feet and recollected the ball only to be surrounded by defenders who forced a 10-second violation.

Brunson struck for 16 first-half points on only nine shots, highlighted by a four-point play when he was tapped by Teddy Allen on a straight-away jumper.

While Villanova advanced to the Elite Eight to face the winner of Purdue-Texas Tech, the Mountaineers began to think about life after Carter.

“I’ve never had anybody work the way this guy works,” Huggins said. “He deserves a better ending, I think.”

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