Charleston – Over the years WVU’s basketball team has garnered the nickname “Stress Virginia” due to the close, late-game situations it finds itself in.
Best Virginia, a WVU alumni team competing in The Basketball Tournament, isn’t immune.
Leading by nine points heading into the elam ending – where the clock is turned off at the four minute mark of the fourth quarter and a target score is set in order to win – Best Virginia staved off a late comeback attempt by WoCo Showtime, a Wofford alumni team, to win 70-67 Saturday afternoon in Charleston.
After getting to within a possession of the target score of 69 and leading 66-52 at one point, Best Virginia yielded a 15-2 run, giving WoCo a second life.
Fortunately for Best Virginia, when the shots weren’t falling the defense stepped up for the key stop. After Tarik Phillip came away with a loose ball, he threw it ahead to Kevin Jones who scored on a layup to end the game.
“Just to try and get an easy shot,” Jones said of what was going through his mind. “When you’ve only got one point to score, we were shooting tough shots except for when John (Flowers) had a wide open one – that was a good shot. But I saw an opportunity for a fast break and that’s what Coach (James) Long was telling us to do. Just run and get easy points and that’s what we did.”
Best Virginia’s finish was similar to its start as it found little fortune from the field in the first quarter.
WoCo opened the game with an 8-2 lead, going up 15-6 at the 1:04 mark of the first quarter. The WVU alum answered, slashing to the deficit to three heading into the second.
They eventually took the lead at 16-15 and went up four when Flowers nailed a 3, but held just a one-point lead at the break.
The second half yielded different results.
Best Virginia found its shooting touch early in the third with Juwan Staten and Kevin Jones igniting an 11-0 run. A 3 from Flowers pushed the lead to seven and Phillip nailed a jumper that pushed the lead to 12.
“It was just ball pressure,” Best Virginia Head Coach James Long said. “That’s what we do. That’s what we’ve been built on long before we got to TBT together. A game like that, you have to turn a number of possessions over. I transferred from Wofford my freshman year and that’s what they want – low possession, methodical, slow tempo paced game. And they’re great at that. They’re great players with a great system and probably the best shooter in the TBT. Ball pressure’s going to steal you some possessions and steal you some points and I think that’s what kind of turned it.”
It took nearly four minutes, but WoCo finally snapped its cold streak. Still Phillip proved to be a thorn in Showtime’s side, nailing a 3 to reestablish an 11-point advantage.
“James has been saying exploit mismatches,” Phillip said. “When you have mismatches you attack them and play for yourself or play for your teammates. That’s what we kind of did.”
Though the rollercoaster of a game was far from over.
WoCo slashed the deficit back to five heading into the final frame, but fell behind again with Flowers, Jones and Phillip combining to make it an 11-point game.
Alex Ruoff took the top off the building with a 3-pointer that made it a 14-point game right before WoCo made another charge to cut it to nine before the elam ending.
Best Virginia took charge early, getting within three points of the target score before WoCo’s late surge ultimately fell short.
“You can prepare as much as you want,” Long said. “There’s so many things that go into it. My elam ending strategy’s not going to be perfect, my substitutions with 11 and 12 pros isn’t going to be perfect. We’re all learning together as we go. Going into it I’m happy with what we have. We had looks, we had good pace we had good momentum going into the elam ending. Some of those shots fall. I think John’s going to make that shot, I think Tarik’s going to make that next shot.
“There were times in transition where we had four on three and ended up shooting a corner 3, but these are professional basketball players. We’ll take that. It’s not going to be perfect – we’re still learning. My thought process going into that was just get on the floor. If we have the ball we can draw something up … We’re learning.”
Kevin Jones led Best Virginia with 18 points and 13 rebounds while Phillip added 11 and 10. John Flowers scored 15. WoCo’s Fletcher Magee, the NCAA’s all-time leader in 3-pointers, led all scorers with 21 points in the loss.
Best Virginia advances to the second round of The Basketball Tournament where it will play the winner of Saturday’s game between D2 and Bleed Virginia on Monday.