ROSEMONT, Ill. (AP) — Blowout or buzzer-beater, Casey Mitchell didn’t care. All he knew was West Virginia needed a win over DePaul and that’s exactly what it got — barely.
Mitchell scored 18 points, and the Mountaineers beat the Blue Demons 67-65 after blowing a 14-point lead in the second half on Tuesday night.
“We didn’t care if we threw up a backwards game-winning shot and won the game,” Mitchell said. “We just needed a win, and it’s tough to come from behind in the Big East three games down.”
With a 58-44 lead with about 10 minutes remaining, the Mountaineers (9-4, 1-2) appeared to be in good shape after opening Big East play with losses to St. John’s and Marquette. Instead, they barely escaped against arguably the conference’s worst team.
Things got real interesting in the closing minutes when DePaul’s Jeremiah Kelly (nine points) buried a 3-pointer after a turnover to make it a two-point game and then hit another with 1:31 left to tie it at 63 after a free throw by Cam Thoroughman.
Darryl Bryant answered with a three-point play to give West Virginia a three-point lead. DePaul’s Brandon Young hit two free throws with 49.9 seconds left to make it 66-65, but the Mountaineers hung on.
John Flowers hit the second of two free throws with 0.9 seconds left after Young missed a jumper from the wing following a timeout, sending DePaul (6-9, 0-3) to its 16th straight loss against conference opponents.
Mitchell hit three 3-pointers. Deniz Kilicli added 14 points on 7-of-8 shooting, Kevin Jones scored 13 and West Virginia hit 28 of 54 shots.
Even so, it struggled to beat a team that’s gone nearly a year without a conference win.
“We just made dumb plays,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “Dumb plays, ill-advised plays.”
Freshman Cleveland Melvin led DePaul with 17 points after scoring 29 in the previous game against Georgetown. Young scored 12, Krys Faber added 10 points, but the Blue Demons remained winless in conference play since beating Marquette last Jan. 20. They dropped their final 13 games last season, including a loss to South Florida in the Big East tournament, and aren’t having better luck yet under new coach Oliver Purnell.
“I think what you take from it is it’s a pretty good team,” Purnell said. “They had a chance to win the game. You didn’t win it. You’ve got to do some other things — maybe at the beginning of the first half, beginning of the second half — better so it doesn’t come down to one shot, but we gave ourselves an opportunity to win by coming back. I think they will believe a little bit more, obviously, if we had won the game.”
The way Kelly sees it, it’s just a matter of time before DePaul wins a Big East game — and that time is soon.
“The next one,” he said. “I think once we get one, we’ll be fine. But we’ve got to get one.”
Leading 50-44, West Virginia scored eight straight to go up by 14 midway through the second half, a three-point play by Joe Mazzulla capping the run and making it 58-44. But the Blue Demons got right back in it.
A 3-pointer by Jimmy Drew with about five minutes left capped an 11-2 run and cut it to 60-55, injecting some drama back into a game that appeared to be getting away from DePaul.
West Virginia was sloppy at times, committing 16 turnovers. That led to 22 points for the Blue Demons, helping them stay in the game even though they shot just 40 percent for the game and struggled from the field in the early going.
“We’ve just got to be mentally tough,” Mitchell said. “When we get leads, guys tend to do things out of their game instead of doing things that got us the lead.”