PSU beats WVU in hoops exhibition
MORGANTOWN — West Virginia University started Saturday afternoon’s charity exhibition basketball game against Penn State by raising a banner for its Sweet 16 run in the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
They ended it by saying, “Well, at least this one didn’t count.” Penn State’s Josh Reaves won it on a tip-in with one second left, sending the No. 13 Mountaineers to a surprising 84-82 loss in their final tune-up before the regular season.
And though they won’t come away with an official loss on the record, the Mountaineers will emerge with wounded pride.
“It doesn’t count, but it does count,” junior forward Lamont West said. “Personally, it does count. We came here thinking we were going to win, but we just didn’t play hard enough. They played harder than we did. That’s why we lost.”
The game was scheduled to benefit the American Red Cross’ hurricane relief efforts. The NCAA approved that a school can use one of its possible two exhibition games against a Division I institution for the purposes of raising funds for a catastrophic event. More than $9,000 was donated by the crowd of 9,517 spectators in the WVU Coliseum to the American Red Cross.
Penn State launched a parade of open 3-pointers in the first half, hitting nine triples en route to a 43-31 halftime lead. Many of those 3s came as a result of Penn State’s control of the offensive glass, as the Nittany Lions hauled in 18 offensive rebounds for the game, including the decisive putback from Reaves at the end.
West Virginia managed to take those deep looks away in the second half, and in doing so made the game tight. Running the offense through big man Sagaba Konate in the post, the Mountaineers took a late lead before a quick five points by Nittany Lions guard Nasir Bolton put Penn State back on top.
A 3-pointer by Chase Harler and a driving layup by Esa Ahmad tied the game with seconds left to play, and Konate pressured Penn State’s Lamar Stevens into a harried missed jumper to seemingly force overtime — until Reaves swooped in with the putback to end the game.
With junior guard Beetle Bolden sitting out because of a hand injury, WVU head coach Bob Huggins elected to start 6-foot-7 junior college transfer Jermaine Haley at point guard. Although Haley, freshmen Brandon Knapper and Jordan McCabe all took turns bringing the ball up, West Virginia struggled to find rhythm in the half-court offense for most of the afternoon.
For Huggins, that lack of sync was a sign of West Virginia’s young core simply not having meshed yet.
“It’s like having a whole bunch of pieces on the floor,” he said. “If they don’t fit together, you don’t have anything, do you? You don’t have anything. You have just a bunch of crap. Right now, we have too many pieces that don’t fit.”
Ahmad led the way for West Virginia with 25 points and seven rebounds, while Konate contributed 15 points and seven rebounds in 26 minutes — more playing time than Huggins planned on giving him as he recovers from an injured knee. Knapper contributed 11 points while Harler added 10.
West Virginia’s new faces turned in an up-and-down showing, but despite the loss, the Mountaineer veterans took positives out of the fact that the newcomers got exposed to lategame situations in a game that didn’t actually count.
“It’s very valuable,” Ahmad said. “We have a lot of young guys and for them to get out there and play their first game, that’s big. We turned the ball over at costly times, but those are things we can correct.”
West Virginia’s regular-season debut is Friday when the Mountaineers face Buffalo at 9 p.m. in the WVU Coliseum.