Commentary

Instant Analysis: West Virginia-Duke

Originally Published: March 22, 2008
By Dana O'Neil | ESPN.com

Editor's note: ESPN.com's Dana O'Neil provides instant analysis from No. 7 seed West Virginia's 73-67 win over No. 2 seed Duke in their second-round matchup.

WASHINGTON -- West Virginia rode an improbable, falling-out-of-bounds 3-pointer from Alex Ruoff to ignite its offense and launch a second-half attack that all but rolled over Duke in the Mountaineers' 73-67 victory in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

HOW THE GAME WAS WON: Bigger and stronger at every position, the Mountaineers figured out how to exploit their advantage in the second half and take control of the game. They turned this game into what they know best -- a physical, brash, defensive Big East-themed game. The Blue Devils were forced into bad shots and sloppy turnovers, clanging shot after shot off the rim. They shot 38 percent for the game and committed 13 miscues.

PLAYER OF THE GAME: Joe Alexander. Double-teamed in the low post almost every time he got the ball, Alexander still fought his way to 22 points and 11 rebounds. If coaches were voting right now for a preseason Big East Player of the Year, Alexander would be neck-and-neck with Notre Dame's Luke Harangody. He's that good.

STAT OF THE GAME: West Virginia didn't just beat Duke on the boards. The Mountaineers owned the Blue Devils, 45-19 for the game and an even more impressive 18-3 in the second half.

STAT OF THE GAME II: 3-pointers. Coaches, statisticians and oddsmakers will tell you 3s aren't as reliable as standard jump shots. Duke, a team that built its season on draining treys, figured that out the hard way. The Devils missed their first nine in the second half and were 5-for-22 for the game from beyond the arc.

TURNING POINT: Gerald Henderson snuck from under the bucket, rolling out for a wide-open 3-pointer on the wing but tossing up a rainbow air ball that might have landed in Landover, Md., it was so long. WVU pushed the ball up the court, getting Darris Nichols open for a 3 in front of his own bench. Nichols drained the 3 to make it 37-34. DeMarcus Nelson was whistled for a travel on Duke's next possession and, with the shot clock fading, Ruoff nailed a falling-away 3-pointer to tie the score.

TURNING POINT II: With 12:43 left, Kyle Singler was called for a reach-in, his fourth foul of the game. West Virginia led 43-40 when Singler, who spent most of the game on Alexander, went to the bench. The Mountaineers led 52-46 when he came back in.

NOPE, NOT ME: On a drive to the hoop, Henderson planted his elbow into Nichols. The whistle tweeted, and Henderson -- convinced he was getting called for the offensive foul -- headed up the court. Whoops. Foul on Nichols.

WHAT IT MEANS: West Virginia advances to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2006 and will play Thursday in Phoenix against Xavier or Purdue. The Mountaineers have a pretty nice stretch going in the tourney. The last four times they've made it to the NCAA tournament (2008, 2006, 2005 and 1998) they've reached at least the Sweet 16.

First-half analysis: Duke 34, West Virginia 29

TURNING POINT: This half was more like a slow burn, with neither team playing exactly exemplary basketball. Each had eight first-half turnovers and looked tentative, if not downright out of rhythm, all game. The Mountaineers shot 36 percent, missing more chip-shot layups than a CYO fifth-grade team would miss. At one point, Duke went 2-for-12 from the floor, but West Virginia couldn't take advantage of the drought.

PLAYER OF THE HALF: Greg Paulus. After scoring just 12 points on 2 of 7 shooting from the field against Belmont, the Duke junior drained quick back-to-back 3-pointers en route to eight first-half points. More than points, Paulus brought attitude to the Devils. The junior slapped the floor on defense and practically sprinted to the scorer's table for substitutions, clapping and cajoling his teammates from the sideline.

PLAYER OF THE HALF II: Alexander. Down by as many as 10 early, the Mountaineers got themselves back into the game (to a degree, at least) when they started to give the ball to Alexander. He finished with 11 points and five rebounds in the half, keeping WVU in the game by himself.

STAT OF THE HALF: West Virginia, usually a good 3-point shooting team, shot 0-for-6 from the arc. Ruoff, who came out of a 6-for-21 slump to drain five triples against Arizona, missed his two tries.

DISPARITY: West Virginia took three free throws in the first half. Duke took 12.

HE'S NOT HAPPY: Furious that Wellington Smith was called for a foul on what looked like little more than a hard screen of Paulus, Bob Huggins apparently stewed and stewed until he could stew no longer. During a TV timeout, Huggins and official Ed Hightower were, ahem, debating the merit of the call when Huggins apparently said something Hightower didn't like. While the Mountaineers huddled, Hightower hit Huggins with a technical foul.

THEY'RE NOT PARANOID: The folks out there who bleed Blue Devils blue and insist the rest of the world is filled with Duke haters aren't necessarily wrong. When the Devils went through their pregame introductions, they were greeted with a chorus of lusty boos. The West Virginia faithful joined their lungs with the early-arriving Purdue and Xavier fans to prove the old sports adage true: No one likes a favorite.

K-WATCH: Duke didn't offer a pregame health report, but Mike Krzyzewski certainly looked healthier. Done in by a nasty flu bug Thursday, Krzyzewski lost his voice and could barely communicate with this players. Coach K didn't seem to have any problems this time, easily getting his team's attention from his spot on the bench.

Dana O'Neil is a college basketball writer for ESPN.com.

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