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WVU gets big win over No. 7 Notre Dame

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Truck Bryant scored 24 points, Joe Mazzulla 16 and Kevin Jones 14 as West Virginia ran away from Notre Dame for a 72-58 win at the WVU Coliseum.

They played great in front of the greats.

With a sellout crowd on hand, which included over 50 of West Virginia's finest basketball alumni, the Mountaineers caught the swift wind of momentum in the second half and pushed out a 72-58 victory over No. 8 Notre Dame (21-5, 10-4) at WVU Coliseum Saturday afternoon.

West Virginia (17-9, 8-6) outscored the Fighting Irish 46-31 in the final 20 minutes of play, shooting a solid 14-of-26 (53.8%) from the field.

Point guard Truck Bryant finished with 24 points on 4-of-7 shooting from beyond-the-arc and 10-of-12 from the free throw line.

“This was just big for us, and it was big for me,” said Bryant. “I knew I was struggling lately, but I just stayed confident, and my confidence guided me through this game. I put confidence into every shot I took, and I was glad they were dropping today.”

Neck-and-neck with the Irish for most of the first half, West Virginia, with the help of two Bryant 3-pointers, put together an 8-0 run with a little over 17 minutes remaining in the game, which helped them corral a 36-31 lead, forcing a Notre Dame timeout.

West Virginia dropped six of their eight 3-pointers in the second half.

“I told them at halftime that I didn't know if we could play any harder than we were playing,” said WVU head coach Bob Huggins. “I think we played really hard but I didn't think we could play any worse offensively than we had. We just didn't make any shots. Truck got us going, which helps. He got some set-in shots and he got it going. Truck made shots, and Joe (Mazzulla) kept us in the game driving the ball. We made shots. It sounds simple, but we made shots.”

The senior point guard Mazzulla—who guarded Notre Dame standout guard Ben Hansbrough for much of the game—finished with 16 points, scoring 10 on driving layups.

Mazzulla and Bryant played much of the second half together on the court, helping to hold the backcourt of Hansbrough and Scott Martin to just 12-second half points.

Hansbrough finished with 19 points for the Irish, going 7-of-18 from the floor and 3-of-7 from beyond the arc.

“There's no question it helps to have those guys on the floor, because now we have two guys that can handle the ball,” said Huggins about Mazzulla and Bryant. “When the clock is running down and we need a play, we have two guys that can handle the ball.”

The Mountaineers overall put together a defensive clinic that included holding Notre Dame to a rugged 21-of-60 (35%) from the floor, including just 8-of-27 from 3-point territory.

“We knew we had to be physical with a team like this,” said forward Kevin Jones, who finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds on the day. “They are a team that likes to get inside and go up strong, so we knew couldn't give them any good looks underneath.”

Forward Tim Abromaitis, one of Notre Dame's physical forwards, finished with just nine points and four rebounds.

Both Hansbrough and Abromaitis fouled out of the game, just 45 seconds apart from each other with a little under three minutes remaining.

Playing as if their NCAA tournament lives were on the line, West Virginia's brutal second half defense did not allow the Irish to cut within single-digits of the lead in the final 9:56 of the game.

“I think we needed this big time,” said Mazzulla. “This was a big game, it was a CBS-nationally televised game against a Top 10 team. I don't want to say we won convincingly, but we handled the tempo, we took care of the ball, we made our shots, and we played unforgiving defense.”

“I thought West Virginia was really ready to play,” said Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey. “We really didn't do well offensively and I think that was a lot of West Virginia's doing and the atmosphere here. We tried to make a couple runs, but they hit some big shots. Guys hit big 3's at times to make us never feel we could close the gap. They were really good today.”

One of those 3-pointers came from the hands of Jonnie West, who knocked down his only field goal of the game from beyond-the-arc with 13:59 left in the game, and gave his Mountaineers their first double-digit lead of the game.

“I thought we played with a lot of enthusiasm throughout the whole game,” said Huggins. “That is probably as hard as we have played since the Purdue game [68-64 win, Jan. 16] for 40 minutes. I think everyone we put in played hard.”

Forward John Flowers had five points and 10 rebounds, while Notre Dame forward Tyrone Nash and guard Carleton Scott combined for 21 points.

West Virginia, who stood as a bubble-team for several weeks now, earned a spot far away from that title after Saturday's win over No. 8 Notre Dame. With key wins that include Purdue, Georgetown, Vanderbilt and at Cincinnati, the Mountaineers, who still get Connecticut and Louisville at home, more than likely played themselves into the big dance Saturday.

As of now, West Virginia is tied for 4th place in the Big East standings alongside Connecticut and Syracuse, and had an RPI of 25 before the game.

Coach Bob Huggins was hit with a technical foul after arguing a questionable no-call on a Mazzulla layup with 10:23 left in the game.

“I thought there was a foul. I kind of expressed that maybe too vigorously,” said Huggins. “You're not supposed to have any kind of emotion, I guess.”

“Coach does what he does for a reason,” said Flowers about the technical. “We don't really get excited over it, but we do come together as a team, and we play tough despite what the refs called.”

Notre Dame coach Mike Brey was also hit with a technical foul with 9:13 left in the game. His 'Irish scored just 13 more points after the foul.

After finishing with just six points, and going 1-of-6 from the floor against Syracuse Monday night, Truck Bryant persevered Saturday, leading both teams in scoring with 24 after recording 9 or less or less in seven of his last eight games.

“It's his best game in a long time,” said Huggins. “Not just he made shots, but his decision making was better.”

Bryant says his inspiration came from some of the basketball alumni that were in attendance for Saturday's game.

“I spoke to a couple of the point guards, and they just told me that they knew I was struggling right now, but to just keep playing and I'll make shots, I'll make shots, and I'll make plays,” the junior said. “I came out today, and I did that. And it's funny, because I saw them after the game, and they looked like they were really excited about what we did.”

With 11:03 left in the game, John Flowers chased down a driving Hansbrough, blocking his layup attempt off the glass, which lead to a Bryant layup on the other end, giving West Virginia a 50-40 lead, and erupting the WVU Coliseum crowd into a frenzy.

The second and final installment of the 2011 regular season Backyard Brawl will take place Thursday, Feb. 24 at Petersen Events Center. Tipoff is set for 9 PM.

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