No. 11 West Virginia took its first loss of the season after falling 87-82 to top-ranked Gonzaga at the Jimmy V Classic in Indianapolis.
This contest was a back-and-forth prizefight. The lead changed hands nine times, with nine ties — plus the score deficit
The first half was full of back-and-forth runs. The Mountaineers were able to get an early advantage for the first ten minutes of the game, jumping out to a six-point lead.
That triggered a 9-0 Gonzaga run that put the Bulldogs in the lead, but it didn’t last long as WVU went on another run — this time outscoring Zags by 12.
The first half was physical, with players from both teams needing medical attention. The first was Sean McNeil, who took an inadvertant elbow from Corey Kispert. McNeil was patched up and returned to the court minutes later.
Later on in the half, Jalen Suggs took an apparent injury to his ankle that took him out for several minutes.
That loss was big for Gonzaga — the star freshman was 2-for-3 from the floor with four rebounds and three assists. His departure swung momentum back in the Mountaineers’ favor, as WVU took a five-point lead to the locker room for halftime.
WVU’s frontcourt played tough in the first half, with the duo of Oscar Tshiebwe and Derek Culver combining for 17 points and 17 rebounds out of the gate.
The second half was a slugfest. Neither team could get more than a one-possession lead until the game was inside six minutes, which was when Gonzaga took a lead they never gave up.
Suggs made his return with 15 minutes remaining in the game. He made a positive impact for the Bulldogs, finishing with 4 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists.
It was a slugfest on the floor, too. Tshiebwe was the first player to foul out, after picking up his fifth whistle with more than seven minutes on the clock. Gabe Osabuohien fouled out four minutes later, all the while Culver had four fouls — but he managed to stay in until the final buzzer.
Culver finished the contest with 18 points and 15 rebounds, while Tshiebwe added 14 points and 9 boards.
A shocking stat for the Mountaineers was Gonzaga’s proficiency inside offensively. The Bulldogs were able to cut inside, create mismatches and run the floor in transition to score 60 points in the paint, twice the number of WVU’s. The bulk of this scoring came from Joel Ayayi, who led the game with 21 points on 66.6 percent shooting.
Corey Kispert and Andrew Nembhard each added 19 points for the Bulldogs, while Drew Timme chipped in 17 before fouling out in the final minutes.
Three other Mountaineers made double-figures in the scoring column — Deuce McBride and Gabe Osabuohien each scored 10 points, while Taz Sherman dropped 12.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” said WVU coach Bob Huggins. “We fell asleep too many times….we just made some careless errors that came back to bite us.”
West Virginia stays on the road for their fifth straight game when they head to Washington, DC to face Georgetown in the Big 12-BIG EAST Battle on Dec. 6.