Fresh faces emerge in old-style Big East game

A pair of freshman guards, Syracuse’s Brandon Triche and West Virginia’s Dalton Pepper, sparked their respective programs in the first game between two top-10 teams in Morgantown, West Virginia since 1960.

Quantity nearly beat quality Saturday afternoon. Fifth-ranked Syracuse withstood a barrage of late three-pointers by No. 9 West Virginia, making just enough free throws to defeat the Mountaineers, 72-71, in Big East action.

West Virginia guard Darryl Bryant sank three free throws and an NBA three-pointer in the span of four seconds while the Orange missed three of four attempts at the charity stripe. The final attempt, a Kris Joseph clank with 2.5 seconds left, fell into the hands of All-Big East guard Da’Sean Butler who drew nothing but air on a three-quarter-court heave.

''At the end, West Virginia just kept making plays and pushing further and further, so we are very fortunate that we didn't turn it over, and I think that's what made the difference,'' Orange coach Jim Boeheim told the Associated Press. ''We were tougher today. We had toughness when we needed it.

Led by Triche (16 points, five assists) and Joseph (13 points, 5-of-8 from the charity stripe), the Orange (16-1, 4-1 Big East) continued to shot the ball well (57.8 percent from the floor) and held a sizeable rebound advantage (35-24).

But this is the Big East Conference. Football on the hardwood floor. No lead is safe. Even this author thought the Orange would be upset.

The bullish Triche (listed at 6-4, 200 lbs.) opened the game with a three-pointer, but the in-your-face style West Virginia defense made passing for Syracuse difficult. By fronting the larger Orange post players and denying on the wings, the Mountaineers disrupted the Syracuse continuity. The Orange committed seven turnovers in the opening 10 minutes, yet two buckets by bruising forward Rick Jackson, including a smooth lefty hook from the baseline, gave the Orange a 19-15 lead with eight minutes left in the first half.

West Virginia was suffering just as much on its offensive end, allowing the Cuse zone to push its offense farther and farther from the basket. The Mountaineers continued to fire from long distance, and the long misses led to easy Syracuse fast breaks. Orange senior guard Andy Rautins led a 3-on-2 break with 5:45 left, dropping a pass of to Wes Johnson, who swooped in for the finger roll to put Syracuse ahead, 22-15.

The Mountaineer (13-3, 4-2) started to find their mark late in the first half, as Butler sank consecutive jumpers (one was a triple) and drew a charge on Jackson.  Butler then drew another charge, this time on Orange guard Scoop Jardine.

Bryant found the bottom of the net with five seconds left in the half, drilling a three-pointer to bring the fans to their feet, and West Virginia was within one, 26-25.

The momentum stayed with West Virginia as they emerged from the locker room. After Orange head coach Jim Boeheim went to a smaller lineup Brandon Triche(inserting Joseph for hulking post Arinze Onuaku), WVU counterpart Bob Huggins inserted freshman shooting guard Dalton Pepper.

The Mountaineers brought its physicality to the offense, making contact with the Orange players standing around in the zone. WVU overloaded one side of the zone with four players and then attacked the weak-side Orange forwards. The result: a 13-6 Mountaineers scoring run fueled by a pair of three-pointers from Pepper.

In 12 minutes of second-half action, Pepper tallied 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting and filled WVU with limitless confidence that would reveal itself later in the game.

Boeheim, tired of seeing his Orange getting pushed around, pushed back against the officials, coming within a hair of getting a technical. After signaling for time, Boeheim mimicked how his star, Wesley Johnson, got hit on the arm attempting a jump shot. Johnson, bugged by the flu and Butler’s lock-down defense, was not his normal self. He, and Boeheim, needed someone to step up.

Up stepped Triche (pictured), who had been quiet since the opening minutes. The freshman ignited 9-0 Orange run following the time out, converting a steal and the layup before pulling up off the dribble to can a three-pointer with 11:05 left as the Orange led 46-42.

After a brief rest, Boeheim put Triche back on the floor with 6:43 left and Cuse clinging to a one-point lead, 48-47. The Orange lead jumped to eight points, 59-51 as Triche found Onuaku for a thunderous dunk, and then converted a lay-up in traffic. Triche grabbed an offensive rebound at the 2:42 mark and made the put-back while getting fouled.

The Orange (17-1, 4-1) pushed its lead to 65-55 on a Johnson free throw before West Virginia started drilling deep three-pointers.

Bryant led West Virginia with 18 points by shooting 4-of-7 from three-point land while Pepper contributed a career-high 15 and Butler added 13 points, six rebounds and five assists.

Johnson and Joseph tallied 13 points apiece while Jackson bulled his way to eight points and a game-high 10 rebounds.

The last time two top-10 teams met in West Virginia, Hall of Famer Jerry West, as  a senior captain, led the Mountaineers to a victory over Villanova.

Maybe the next time people look back at a game like this, historians will talk about the day Brandon Triche broke out.

Follow us on Twitter for in-game updates, news and analysis.

Photo by Jamie De Pould/

Post new comment

* Field must be completed for your comment to appear on The NewsHouse
The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.