No. 23 West Virginia entered as a 28-point favorite over Marist only to find itself tied inside the final 6 minutes at the Advocate Invitational.
After Jevon Carter’s 3-pointer broke the deadlock, reserve Chase Harler added back-to-back 3s that sparked the Mountaineers to an 84-78 escape in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Carter scored 20 and Sagaba Konate had 14 points and 10 rebounds for West Virginia (4-1), which won despite a stunning 31-20 deficit in bench scoring.
David Knudsen made 5-of-9 from 3-point range and scored 19 points for the winless Red Foxes (0-4), who shot 73 percent in the second half to climb out of a 65-50 hole. During one stretch Marist made 15-of-16 shots from the floor, including six 3s, to even the game at 67-67. The hot shooting might have led to an upset if not for the underdogs committing 24 turnovers.
West Virginia snapped out of its malaise by making six straight free throws in the final 23 seconds to finish 24-of-29 at the foul line for a season-best 83 percent.
While the win set up a semifinal matchup against UCF (4-0) on Friday at 5 p.m. Eastern, coach Bob Huggins was adamant his team need to find more energy.
“I just told them we’re going to play 31 regular-season games and I can’t go in there and try to get them jacked up 31 times,” he said.
“We had no press today, and we really haven’t had one so far. For one, we don’t play hard enough, and then we lack the foot-speed that we’ve had.”
Aside from Konate making five baskets in the paint, West Virginia rarely penetrated Marist’s zone. Shooting over it was mostly futile as the Mountaineers finished 8-of-38 from deep — at least until Carter’s tiebreaking shot made it 70-67. Harler was 0-for-4 until his two 3s built the lead to 76-70.
“We rely so much on making 3s that we never threw the ball inside,” Huggins said.
Daxter Miles added 14 points, seven rebounds and a career-high seven assists, tempered by four turnovers and missing all five 3-point tries.
“The guy that I wanted to get in there (against the zone) was Dax, but Dax was in a funk today and wasn’t feeling well,” Huggins said.
Carter had five rebounds, four assists, four steals and only one turnover — forced to play 38 minutes because the game remained unexpectedly tight.
Marist, which lost its previous game to Army by 21 points, got 14 points from Brian Parker and 10 from reserve Isaiah Lamb. On Friday the Red Foxes will meet Nebraska in a consolation-bracket game.