Here are three thoughts following the West Virginia Mountaineers’ loss to the Syracuse Orange in the second round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
THE RUN THAT DID WVU IN
The Mountaineers and the Orange were locked in a great game heading into the final five minutes, with the Orange up only 60-59. The Mountaineers and worked, and worked, and worked to get back in the game. At one point, the Mountaineers even had the lead and it looked like it was coming down to the wire. But, the Orange found a way, a scoring run the Mountaineers just couldn’t slow down. Buddy Boeheim made a 3-pointer with 4:55 left to push the Orange’s lead to 63-59 (that was part of a huge second half for the younger Boeheim, as he scored 25 points for the game). After an empty possession for WVU, Marek Dolezaj tipped in a basket with 4:14 left to push the lead to 65-59. With 3:41, there was a TV timeout and WVU had a chance to reset. But on the first possession after the timeout, Robert Braswell hit a baseline 3-pointer to push the Syracuse lead to 68-59. Then, Quincy Guerrier’s dunk pushed the lead to 70-59 with 2:33 left. At that point, the Orange had control. Sure, the Mountaineers made the Orange sweat it out big-time. But that simple 10-0 run to push the lead to 11 points put the Orange in a position to hold off the Mountaineers, as the Orange ultimately won, 75-72.
The junior was the single biggest reason the Mountaineers got back into this game. In fact, it was one of those nights for Sean McNeil, those nights where he hits a three, catches fire and had one heck of a game. McNeil ended up shooting 8-of-15 for the game, but 13 of those shots were from beyond the arc, and he made seven of them. At one point, he and Gabe Osabuohein made a great inside-outside team. The Mountaineers would get the ball inside to Osabuohein and he would simply dish it outside to McNeil for the shot. They did that twice, then Miles McBride got wise to it and got the ball to McNeil twice. And in that span McNeil hit four 3-pointer and the Mountaineers took the lead on his last 3-pointer in that stretch, 53-52. He ended up with 23 points, with 21 of them coming from behind the arc. If he could have made just one more, the Mountaineers could have at least forced overtime.
THAT HORRIBLE FIRST HALF
How bad was the first half for the Mountaineers? Let us count the ways. They finished with more turnovers (11) than made field goals (9). They looked completely lost against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone defense (which, if we’re being fair was as aggressive and as disciplined a 2-3 zone as I’ve seen in quite some time). The Orange tried to bury them under a torrent of 3-pointers (seven in all) and shot nearly 50 percent from the floor. Joseph Girard III did his best Buddy Boeheim impression, as he hit four 3-pointers to lead the Orange with 12 points. And yes, down 14 points with five minutes left, the Mountaineers found a way to cut the lead all the way down to six points, 35-29, at halftime. That 13-5 run for West Virginia, at the time, kept them from completely falling out of this game. But falling that far behind really forced WVU to expend a ton of energy in the second half.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.
**Want to win a $20 gift card? Go sign up here and join our conversation! The best poster each week wins a gift card to your favorite establishment!**