MORGANTOWN, W.VA. — Upon its first visit to West Virginia since 1985, the Virginia men’s basketball team was greeted with the typical scene at West Virginia Coliseum: a raucous full house that rose to its feet and stayed there for the final minute of a frantic game, stomping and roaring with every turnover the Mountaineers forced.
In an atmosphere intense enough to match the home team’s full-court press, the Cavaliers didn’t leave Morgantown with many happy memories Tuesday night. No. 15 Virginia fell to No. 18 West Virginia, 68-61, giving the Cavaliers their first loss of the season.
It was the toughest test of the season thus far for Virginia (8-1). The Mountaineers (8-1) were the Cavaliers’ first ranked opponent of the season, and their high-scoring offense is led by two polished seniors in Jevon Carter — whom West Virginia lists as the most experienced college player in the nation with 116 games played — and Daxter Miles Jr.
Tuesday’s defeat was Virginia’s second straight to West Virginia in a series history that dates from the 1915-16 season and more recently has been played each year since 2015.
Cavaliers Coach Tony Bennett and his players were stoic but not disheartened after the game, given the level of competition.
“It’s valuable, it really is, if we grow from it,” Bennett said. “We could be in a lot of those tough settings against talented teams. . . . That’s why you play these nonconference games and series like this, to try to respond. It was the first time we had been a little bit behind late in the game, and we responded for a while and then they either hit a tough shot or we had a breakdown or a costly turnover.”
With two tough defenses, the game played out like a battle of attrition, and the Mountaineers simply made their shots late.
With 3:03 to play, a three-pointer from forward Lamont West gave West Virginia a five-point lead. A three-pointer from guard Ty Jerome brought the Cavaliers within two points with 2:37 remaining (the sophomore also committed two turnovers in the final 1:30), but the Mountaineers stayed ahead by converting from the free throw line until time expired.
Senior guard Devon Hall said the difference in the end was simply execution.
“We had some mishaps and turnovers,” he said, “and they executed well.”
No one was as good late in the game as Carter and West, both of whom scored 10 points in the final 11 minutes. Carter led the Mountaineers with 23 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists while committing just three turnovers. He finished 6 for 12 from the field and 9 for 10 from the foul line after a slow start. West added 22 points.
West Virginia didn’t outrebound the Cavaliers by much — 32-27 — and Bennett can take positives from his team’s performance against the full-court press. The Mountaineers forced only 14 turnovers against the Cavaliers, who entered Tuesday tied for the fifth-fewest turnovers committed in the nation (71 through eight games). West Virginia’s average was 22.25 forced turnovers per game.
But the main takeaway was that Virginia wasn’t sharp enough. Hall led a fairly characteristic outing for this season’s squad with 19 points on 7-for-12 shooting from the field and added four rebounds and six assists to one turnover. Senior Isaiah Wilkins led the defensive effort with five rebounds.
Guard Kyle Guy, Virginia’s leading scorer on the season, didn’t get hot until the second half. He missed all five attempts from beyond the arc before intermission, but the sophomore made six threes after halftime, scoring all 18 of his points. He tied the game twice late in the second half with a three-pointer.
“I told him to make them in the second half,” Bennett said jokingly. “No, I said, ‘Listen, Kyle, if you’re not feeling it, take the good shot. You don’t have to force it, but . . . we need you to be assertive and aggressive. You’ve got to be sound with the ball and pick it up on the defensive end.’ He’s always a shot away from getting it going.”
Despite their series’ long absence from Morgantown, Virginia and West Virginia have faced off annually since 2015, when the Cavaliers topped the Mountaineers, 70-54, in the 2015 Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden. West Virginia prevailed in Charlottesville, 66-57, last season.
Even so, Virginia needed a few minutes to reacquaint itself with the full-court press. The Mountaineers jumped out to a 7-0 start in which they forced three Virginia turnovers and the Cavaliers missed their first three shots from the field.
Virginia chalks up its poor start as one of the little things it will focus on improving after Tuesday’s loss.
“I think we just needed to settle in and calm down. It’s a very hectic environment,” Guy said. “It was a good test for us, and I’m glad that we did this early in the year.”