As his team clung to a narrow second-half lead over 10th-ranked Virginia, West Virginia guard Jevon Carter made a blunder that hastened the Mountaineers' demise.
Instead of attacking the rim himself on a 2-on-1 fastbreak or making a simple pass, he got too fancy and tried to feed Jonathan Holton with a behind-the-back pass. Virginia's London Perrantes stole the ball and then buried the go-ahead 3-pointer at the other end, a five-point swing from which West Virginia never recovered.
Perrantes' strong play helped the Cavaliers pull away for a 70-54 victory on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, a stunning reversal after a first half mostly controlled by the 14th-ranked Mountaineers. West Virginia led by as many as 12 points late in the first half, but Virginia tightened up on defense and carved up the Mountaineers' full-court press after halftime, outscoring their regional rival 40-18.
Virginia's victory reinforces that the Cavaliers are again one of the ACC's elite teams despite the departure of versatile scorer Justin Anderson and defensive standout Darion Atkins from last year's 30-win team. The Cavaliers are 8-1 and appear to forging their usual identity as a slow-paced yet ruthlessly efficient team that forces opponents into contested jump shots.
West Virginia entered the night as one of the nation's final 12 unbeaten teams, but the Mountaineers' second-half struggles suggest that they may still be a tick behind the likes of Kansas, Oklahoma and Iowa State in a loaded Big 12. While West Virginia forces turnovers at a rate unmatched by any team in the nation, the Mountaineers are a poor outside shooting team that can struggle to score when they aren't generated fast-break opportunities and they aren't dominating the offensive glass.
Everything went in West Virginia's favor in the first half Tuesday night as the Mountaineers' swarming full-court press forced 11 turnovers from a Virginia team that averages seven per game so far this season. West Virginia also consistently scored in the paint against a compact Virginia defense designed to limit chances around the rim.
Virginia finished the game with a highly uncharacteristic 19 turnovers, but the Cavaliers improved in every other facet of the game in the second half.
They controlled the pace of play, limited second-chance opportunities and did a far better job defending West Virginia's dribble penetration and off-ball cuts, effectively shutting down the Mountaineers on offense. West Virginia attempted only 20 second-half shots and made just six of them.
Virginia also did a far better job of making the Mountaineers pay for gambling for steals in the second half. After Anthony Gill kept the Cavaliers competitive with 15 first-half points, Perrantes scored all 13 of his points during a second half in which he and his teammates missed only five shots from the floor.
Perrantes' performance was especially noteworthy considering he had undergone surgery to remove his appendix only eight days earlier.
Like his team, he was a little tentative and shaky in the first half against West Virginia's pressure. Like his team, he bounced back strong in the second half to secure a victory.
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