CLEVELAND, Ohio — Head bowed, face wrapped in a towel, Gary Browne wept audibly for most of the 30-minute postgame interview session.
Even on happier occasions, he had turned sentimental about the approaching end to his college career. But Thursday night’s loss to Kentucky made it real, and a 39-point loss hammered home the finality.
West Virginia reached the Sweet 16, in part, because of the 14 points Browne scored against Maryland four days prior. But Kentucky’s defense was next-level disruption and Browne’s 129-game career closed with an 0-for-5 shooting performance—his lone point coming on a second-half free throw.
With reddened, puffy eyes, he finally peeked up from his locker after a tap on his shoulder. It was fellow senior Juwan Staten, coming in for a hug.
In Wednesday’s run-up to the Sweet 16, Browne spoke about his special bond with Staten, one strengthened during the disappointments of the previous two seasons when West Virginia failed to make the NCAA tournament.
“We care about our state and we care about our coaching staff, and we feel like we hadn’t given them what they deserved,” Browne said. “That’s why we’ve stayed here through thick and thin.”
Williams disappointed: After only 12 seconds, Devin Williams was hit for a foul defending in the paint. With only 1:14 elapsed, he was whistled for No. 2, a charge for driving his shoulder through the chest of Karl-Anthony Towns.
Complaining as he stomped off the court, Williams drew an extended glare from official Jeff Clark. Once seated at the end of the bench, Williams drew some settle-down counseling from assistant Erik Martin.
“Dev was really, really into the game, and he knew once he went out that we were going to struggle to score,” Martin said. “He was our leading scorer and rebounder in the tournament. You take that out and we’re really going to struggle to manufacture points.”
Coming off a four-game stretch where he averaged 18.2 points and 9.7 rebounds, the sophomore blamed himself for drawing immediate foul trouble. (“I got a little bit more growing up to do.”) When Williams checked out, WVU trail 2-0, and by the time he re-entered the gap was 14-2.
“If Dev’s not in the game and I’m playing us, I’m saying ‘Don’t let Staten get off,'” Martin said. “You don’t need to be a genius to figure that out.”
Where was Towns? Some predict he’ll be the NBA’s No. 1 overall pick this summer, but Karl-Anthony Towns did next to nothing Thursday night. He finished with one point, two rebounds, four fouls and a turnover in 13 minutes, yet Kentucky delivered the biggest blowout in Sweet 16 history.
“Karl was not as engaged with the team as he normally is, and I don’t know why he wasn’t,” said coach John Calipari. “But we’ll need him for the next one
Harrison injured finger: Kentucky expects to have Aaron Harrison in the lineup Saturday against Notre Dame despite a gruesome-looking finger dislocation.
The Wildcats led 48-19 when Harrison emerged from a rebounding scrum grasping his left hand. The sold-out arena crowd gasped as the enormous HD video board showed his ring finger pointing in an odd direction
“It was awful,” Calipari said, “and then I kept looking at it like, ‘Is that his right hand or is that his left hand?’ I couldn’t figure it out, and he said left, so I said you’re good, tape that thing up.
“I put him back in, I just wanted him to take a shot or two like to make sure he would feel OK, but then I told him don’t you drive the ball, don’t go near the basket. … But he’s fine. He seems to be fine. It will be hurting tomorrow, I imagine.”
Near record for Holton: In a tightly officiated game, West Virginia was whistled for 29 fouls, six more than its nation-leading average. Kentucky was called for 21.
Jonathan Holton fouled out for the seventh time, and with 118 total fouls, came within three of the WVU single-season record set by Wellington Smith in 2010.
Only 10 players in Division I have committed more fouls than Holton this season.