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Men’s Basketball: Mountain blues

Mike Gotimer | Monday, February 21, 2011

No. 8 Notre Dame’s seven-game winning streak came to a halt Saturday after the Irish’s 72-58 loss to West Virginia.

The Irish (21-5, 10-4 Big East), who led 27-26 at the half, had won their previous 17 games in which they led at the half. The Mountaineers (17-9, 8-6), however, needed a statement win over a ranked opponent to improve their NCAA Tournament résumé and used a 46-point second half to get it. Irish coach Mike Brey knew it would be tough to win in Morgantown.

“Second shots hurt us at key times, specifically in the first five minutes of the second half,” Brey said. “We didn’t defend as well, we didn’t concentrate as well, we didn’t chase down loose balls as well and it made them believe and their crowd believe. It’s a tough one to get a win in. It is a great atmosphere.”

The Irish took control in the opening minutes, jumping out to a 9-4 lead just under six minutes into the contest. Senior guard Scott Martin scored seven of Notre Dame’s first eleven points to help the Irish overcome a slow start. In the opening frame, Notre Dame held West Virginia to just 28.6 percent shooting from the field, which was the lowest shooting percentage of a Big East opponent in a half this season.

The Mountaineers’ cold shooting would not carry over to the second half, however, as West Virginia shot 54 percent from the field in the closing period and used a 19-8 run to open the second half that put it ahead for good.

After scores from fourth-year forward Tim Abromaitis and senior forward Carleton Scott to open the second half, Mountaineers junior guard Darryl “Truck” Bryant hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 31. On the ensuing possession, senior guard Joe Mazzulla made a layup to put the Mountaineers ahead for good. Following his layup, Mazzulla found Bryant for another three-pointer to extend the West Virginia lead to 36-31. Bryant finished with 24 points in the game while Mazzulla added 16.

Throughout the second half, the Irish continued to battle back, but the Mountaineers seemed to answer each time Notre Dame cut into the lead. With just under 13 minutes to play in the game, senior forward Tyrone Nash hit a layup to pull the Irish within five, the closest they would come to regaining the lead after Bryant put the Mountaineers ahead. West Virginia answered right back on the next possession, however, as junior forward Kevin Jones hit a 3-pointer to put West Virginia up by eight.

“We tried to make a couple rounds, but they hit some big shots,” Brey said. “Guys hit big threes at key times to make us never feel we could close the gap. They were really good today.”

The Irish struggled with foul trouble in the game, as Abromaitis and senior guard Ben Hansbrough, who led the Irish with 19 points, both fouled out while Martin had four fouls.

Notre Dame returns to the court on Wednesday when it hits the road again to face Providence.