One of Truck Bryant’s best games of the year gave West Virginia the start it needed to a difficult five-game stretch run.
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Bryant broke out of a slump by scoring 24, West Virginia took command early in the second half and beat No. 8 Notre Dame 72-58 on Saturday, ending the Irish’s seven-game winning streak.
The Mountaineers (17-9, 8-6 Big East) got a badly needed win against a ranked opponent to prop up their NCAA tournament hopes. West Virginia had been struggling since a 68-64 win over No. 11 Purdue on Jan. 16 that pushed its record to 12-4.
The Mountaineers had lost five of nine entering Saturday.
”We played with a lot of enthusiasm throughout the whole game,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. ”That is probably as hard as we have played since the Purdue game, for 40 minutes. I think everyone we put in played hard.”
None more than Bryant, who single-handedly turned things around after West Virginia shot 29 percent (8 of 28) before halftime.
”On a day like this where their backs were against the wall, Bryant made some big shots,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said.
Bryant had shot 24 percent from the floor and averaged six points over his last five games, but went 5 of 11 against Notre Dame – and 10 of 2 from the foul line – as the Mountaineers outscored the Irish 20-8 on free throws.
Bryant came within one point of his season high of 25 last month at Marquette.
”It’s his best game in a long time,” Huggins said. ”And not just his made shots. I thought his decision making was better.”
Joe Mazzulla added 16 points, and Kevin Jones had 14 points and 10 rebounds for West Virginia.
Ben Hansbrough led Notre Dame (21-5, 10-4) with 19 points before fouling out. Carleton Scott added 11 points and Tyrone Nash scored 10.
West Virginia shot 14 of 26 (54 percent) after halftime and scored 46 points after halftime. The Mountaineers committed a season-low five turnovers.
West Virginia will have a tough task to finish the regular season with games at No. 4 Pittsburgh and Rutgers, then home contests against No. 13 Connecticut and No. 16 Louisville. The Mountaineers will enter that stretch in no better than seventh place in the conference.
The Irish were trying to match their best conference record through 14 conference games, set in 2000-01. They had beaten their three previous road opponents but shot just 35 percent (21 of 60) for the game.
Second-place Notre Dame, trying to secure a double-bye in the conference tournament, returns to action Wednesday at Providence, then finishes the regular season at home again Seton Hall and No. 15 Villanova and on the road at No. 13 Connecticut.
Notre Dame led 27-26 at halftime but went through a couple scoring droughts early in the second half. Hansbough was held without a field goal for the first 12 minutes of the second half. By then, West Virginia had taken command.
Bryant made two 3-pointers during a 17-4 run that was capped by Jonnie West’s 3-pointer for a 45-35 lead with 13:59 remaining.
”The first five minutes of the second half, we didn’t defend as well, concentrate as well or chase down loose balls well and it made them believe and it made their crowd believe,” Brey said. ”We couldn’t get comfortable offensively and a lot of that was West Virginia’s doing in an amazing atmosphere.”
After Tim Abromaitis hit a 3-pointer for Notre Dame and Tyrone Nash made a layup, West Virginia got going again.
Bryant scored six points during a 12-4 run that gave the Mountaineers a 57-42 lead with 9:35 remaining. Notre Dame got no closer than 10 points the rest of the game.
”We just made some shots and played some solid defense tonight,” said West Virginia forward John Flowers. ”We only shot 28 percent in the first half but we came out in the second half and made shots. We just got it going offensively.”