CLEVELAND, March 19 -- West Virginia continued its dramatic and improbable run through March on Saturday night, knocking off second-seeded Wake Forest in an exhausting 50-minute game to earn a trip to the round of 16.
The seventh-seeded Mountaineers overcame a 14-point first-half deficit to defeat the Demon Deacons, 111-105, in double overtime, undoubtedly setting off a chain reaction of celebrations in Morgantown, W. Va.
The West Virginia bench erupts as the Mountaineers upset Wake Forest, 111-105, in double overtime Saturday.
(Jeff Glidden - AP)
"I just hope we have a city when we get back to town," West Virginia guard J.D. Collins said. "It might be burnt down."
West Virginia (23-10) advanced to play sixth-seeded Texas Tech on Thursday in the round of 16 in Albuquerque. Thousands of zealous West Virginia fans remained inside Wolstein Center long after the game had concluded.
They chanted Mike Gansey's name as he jogged from the court after the junior forward scored 19 of his 29 points in the two overtime sessions.
"It's a dream come true," said Gansey, who made 5 of 6 shots in the overtime periods.
Gansey said he was mad at himself after missing a free throw with 21 seconds remaining in regulation that would have given the Mountaineers a four-point advantage and probably "sealed it," he said.
Instead, Wake Forest's Taron Downey sank a three-pointer to tie the score at 77 with 14 seconds remaining. Downey also made a three-pointer with 17 seconds left in the first overtime to extend the game. In the first overtime , Wake Forest center Eric Williams blocked a layup attempt by Johannes Herber in the final seconds to send the game into a second overtime.
"A couple of times, we were dead," Wake Forest Coach Skip Prosser said. "We battled back from the dead."
As the game wore on, Wake Forest appeared to have the advantage because West Virginia was battling severe foul trouble. Three players, including starters Tyrone Sally and Collins, eventually fouled out.
"When Tyrone fouled out," Gansey said of the senior, "I was like, 'I'm not going to let him go out like that.' "
Gansey was the key figure for reasons other than his late-game scoring prowess. He swished a three-pointer with 3 minutes 34 seconds remaining in the second overtime to put the Mountaineers up 98-94. Ten seconds later, he drew the fifth foul on Wake Forest star Chris Paul, who finished with 22 points in what could be his final game if he chooses to forgo his final two years of eligibility and enter the NBA draft.
Paul's back-court partner, Justin Gray, also fouled out, finishing with only eight points. Downey led the Demon Deacons with 27 points.
Wake Forest (27-6) was expected to contend for the national championship this season, but defense proved to be the team's fatal flaw. Prosser acknowledged as much after a game in which his team allowed 84 points after halftime.
Both teams exchanged clutch shots long into the night.
"It started slipping through our fingers when they started scoring basket after basket after basket," Paul said.
Saturday's first half stood in stark contrast to Wake Forest's performance against 15th-seeded Chattanooga on Thursday. In that game, the Demon Deacons overcame a three-point halftime deficit against the Mocs to earn a 16-point victory, despite making only 2 of 15 three-point attempts in the first half.
Saturday was different, at least early on. Wake Forest led by 14 as its offense operated as well as it had in some time. The Demon Deacons made 60 percent of their shots and scored 28 points in the lane.
But West Virginia opened the second half intent on quickly slicing into the 13-point halftime deficit. Gansey converted a three-point play, then Collins scored a layup on the Mountaineers' next possession, forcing Wake Forest to call a timeout.
West Virginia's NCAA tournament run is particularly impressive considering the Mountaineers were on the verge of not even earning an at-large bid until they won a game in the Big East tournament. West Virginia eventually lost in the Big East final to Syracuse, which was beaten by Vermont on Friday.
When Gansey was asked if there was any game he has ever played in that compared to Saturday's, the Olmsted Falls, Ohio, native said, "This has to be at the top."