MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The Coliseum became a cauldron of noise, its 9,300 fans roaring enough for a crowd twice that size, and West Virginia’s basketball team boiled with energy, its ambush of No. 20 Gonzaga on pace.
Only Gonzaga—and specifically slumping guard Kevin Pangos—wasn’t finished.
The All-American candidate, discombobulated and ineffective for most of the night, scored 11 points during an 18-2 run that rallied the Bulldogs to an 80-76 win.
West Virginia (6-4), which couldn’t hold a 10-point lead in the second half, fell to a top-30 RPI team for the third time in four games and missed another opportunity to elevate its nonconference resume.
“We’ve got to learn how to finish games,” said Mountaineers guard Terry Henderson, who scored 15 points in his first start of the season. “We had them right where we wanted them, but just had bad possessions on offense and mental mistakes on defense.”
Henderson’s four-point play put WVU ahead 64-56 with 8:22 remaining and set the building abuzz. But on cue the veteran Bulldogs (9-1) regained their poise and began working sets for the struggling Pargos, who was 3-of-12 shooting at that point. He promptly hit a pull-up jumper and then sank three consecutive 3-pointers in the span of four possessions as Gonzaga jetted ahead 74-66.
“The first (3-pointer) we acted like we didn’t know who he was—we didn’t have anyone around him,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. “All we wanted to do was keep it out of his hands, which we did a decent job of for a while.”
Before Pangos heated up from the perimeter, Gonzaga rode the interior presence of 7-foot-1, 296-pound sophomore Przemek Karnowski, who produced season-highs of 19 points and 13 rebounds. The Polish import—who came in as a 46-percent foul shooter yet made 7-of-8 free throws— also foiled WVU’s scouting report with ambidexterity.
“We played him to take away his left hand and a few times he went back with his right hand and made his shots,” said WVU forward Kevin Noreen. “That was a little unexpected because scouting it we didn’t see that much at all.
“He’s a wide-body and he’s tough to guard when he gets the ball deep in the post. He’s all of 7-1 and 300 pounds.”
Eron Harris scored 18 of his 23 points in the first half when the Mountaineers led 39-35. But the sophomore guard was frustrated by getting fewer touches in the second half, and he missed the front end of a one-and-one with WVU down 76-72 at the 1:15 mark.
After Juwan Staten’s jumper closed it to a two-point game with 51 seconds left, WVU forced a Gonzaga miss only to have Sam Dower’s outback dunk make it 78-74 with 25 seconds left.
Staten was solid with 17 points, nine rebounds, three assists and zero turnovers, though he sank only 5-of-14 shots. WVU hit only 37 percent of its shots from the floor, second-worst on the season to the 35-percent outing at Virginia Tech. Gary Browne finished 1-of-6, Nate Adrian 1-of-5 and Devin Williams 3-of-13, unable to lure Karnowski away from the basket.
“We had wide-open shots,” Huggins said. “We’ve all seen Devin step out to 15 and 16 feet and make shots. Tonight they didn’t guard him at the foul line. They were trying to shut down those other people and it was a gamble.”