Closing out games has been a problem for West Virginia, and it was clearly evident in the last meeting with Seton Hall. The Mountaineers might be in store for an easier time Saturday afternoon when they host the potentially short-handed Pirates in a Big East matchup.
West Virginia (20-5, 9-4) lost to then-No. 4 Villanova on Feb. 8 before wasting a five-point lead with 35 seconds to play in regulation in a 98-95 triple-overtime loss to then-25th-ranked Pittsburgh four nights later. The two defeats dropped the Mountaineers three spots in the AP poll to eight.
The Mountaineers avoided their longest losing streak in over four years Wednesday, beating Providence 88-74 by using their significant size advantage. They outrebounded the Friars 43-28 and scored 50 points in the paint, but were outscored by four points in the second half.
“We haven’t been as good as we need to be in closing games,” coach Bob Huggins said. “You keep doing that, sooner or later it jumps up and bites you.”
That almost happened the last time West Virginia faced Seton Hall (15-9, 6-7) on Dec. 26. The Mountaineers blew a 10-point lead with less than a minute to play in regulation before winning 90-84 in overtime on the road.
This time, they may not have to contend with guard Jeremy Hazell, who is uncertain to play due to a deep cut between his fingers on his shooting hand. The junior guard suffered the injury after playing just 12 minutes of Wednesday’s 59-50 win at St. John’s.
“He doesn’t know how it happened,” coach Bobby Gonzalez said. “I’m going to church and pray a little bit.”
Hazell is second in the Big East with an average of 21.9 points, and had a career-high 41 in the last meeting with the Mountaineers, sinking 14 of 33 shots.
“He’s a really, really good player and he got a lot of points, but he got a lot of them at the end when we didn’t do a good job of finding him in transition,” Huggins told the Mountaineers’ official Web site.
“They shoot it quick,” he said. “They shoot it in transition and everything is going to be penetrate and dish. They do set staggers (screens) for Hazell and I’m sure they will set staggers for somebody else if he doesn’t play. They’re not going to change what they do.”
The Pirates, who ended a five-game road losing streak Wednesday, could also be without guard Eugene Harvey for a second consecutive contest because of a bruised right wrist. The senior is averaging 8.1 points and a team-high 4.7 assists.
Those potential absences could help West Virginia win a sixth consecutive meeting with Seton Hall.
Devin Ebanks, who is averaging 12.0 points and ranks sixth in the conference with 8.6 rebounds, is looking for another strong effort after scoring 21 points with seven boards Wednesday. The forward had season highs of 22 points and 17 rebounds against the Pirates in December.
Da’Sean Butler also came up big in that matchup in his hometown of Newark, scoring 21 points and pulling down six rebounds. The senior forward had 16 points against the Friars, and leads West Virginia with 17.7 per game.