Alexander scores 22 points to lead West Virginia to 58-53 victory over Providence in Big East
NEW YORK (AP)—Bob Huggins was just being honest with his West Virginia team during the final minutes of its Big East tournament opener.
“We were just trying to tell our guys that we’ve worked this hard, let’s just go get a stop. Let’s go do what we’re supposed to do,” the first-year coach with 613 wins said. “I thought we made them take hard shots.”
Joe Alexander scored 22 points and West Virginia held Providence to two field goals over the final 7 minutes of a 58-53 victory Wednesday.
The fifth-seeded Mountaineers (23-9) advanced to Thursday’s quarterfinals, where they will face fourth-seeded and 15th-ranked Connecticut. The Huskies beat West Virginia 79-71 in the teams’ only meeting on March 1.
“They’re good and they’re playing at real high level right now,” Huggins said of Connecticut. “We played pretty well for one half up there. We’d go in the locker room down 16 or 17 and came out in the second half and played a whole lot better and actually got back in the game.”
Alexander had averaged 31 points over the last three games and he had a hand in West Virginia’s last six points against Providence (15-16).
Da’Sean Butler had 17 points for the Mountaineers, including consecutive baskets on offensive rebounds that started West Virginia’s game-closing 11-5 run.
“At the end of the game we got them to miss a couple of times and they got up on the offensive glass at big points in the game,” Providence coach Tim Welsh said. “They got offensive rebounds and put them in. We got a couple of drives where we put the ball in and they called a walk. We fought. We challenged. We stuck to our game plan as good as any night this year. The shots just didn’t go down at times but we battled, scrapped and clawed.”
Weyinmi Efejuku had 12 points to lead the Friars, who dropped to 1-6 in their last seven Big East tournament games.
Butler’s first offensive rebound came with 3:47 left on a missed 3-pointer by Darris Nichols as the shot clock expired and it gave the Mountaineers the lead for good at 49-48.
After a turnover by Providence, Butler grabbed a miss by Alexander and scored with 3:07 left for a three-point lead.
Efejuku scored down low, Providence’s first field goal in nearly five minutes, to make it 52-50 with 2:33 to go. But Alexander made four straight free throws and then found Joe Mazzulla with a pass on the break for the basket that made it 58-50 with 8 seconds left. Brian McKenzie hit a 3 with less than 2 seconds to go, making the Friars 2-for-5 with six turnovers in the final 7 minutes.
West Virginia, which entered the game shooting 36 percent from 3-point range, went just 3-for-15 from behind the arc and the 58 points was 18 below its season average and the lowest total in a win since the opening game of the 2006-07 season.
“They did a great job controlling tempo,” Huggins said of Providence. “But at the end we were just going to switch ball screens and not switch anything else and kind of try to stay with our man and guard.”
The Mountaineers beat the Friars three times this season and they have won eight of their last nine in the series, including going 3-1 in the Big East tournament since 2002.