SAN JOSE, Calif. – The decisive moments of Gonzaga’s 61-58 win over West Virginia were a pair of missed 3-pointers by West Virginia guard Jevon Carter, and the first thing he said during the postgame press conference was to admit to an error in judgment.
“That was a mistake on my behalf,” Carter said. “I should have drove it to the basket.”
That Carter should assume so much responsibility for WVU’s loss is a shame considering how ably he played, yet also fitting for he was more than simply the Mountaineers’ most valuable player – he was the foundational player on the court on Thursday.
The Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year was also the leading scorer during the Sweet 16 matchup with Gonzaga, scoring 21 points, which made him the only WVU player to score in double digits.
His presence filled the arena whether on offense or defense. Before that final possession he made 4 of 7 3-point attempts, while his teammates combined to make just one of their 14 from behind the arc. And every shot seemed like a dagger.
When the Bulldogs took a 45-37 lead with 14 minutes left in the game, it seemed Gonzaga might pull away comfortably after the tense first half. Compounding problems, senior leader Nathan Adrian was charged with his third foul and would soon have to sit after picking up his fourth.
But Carter hit a 3-pointer then drew a foul on Nigel Williams-Goss while hitting a shot, giving himself a personal 6-0 run and pulling the Mountaineers back within a point.
The battle between Carter and Williams-Goss proved to be a critical microcosm of the game itself. The two guarded each other for much of the game. Each played 38 of the game’s 40 minutes, and no other player was on the court for more than 29 minutes.
Williams-Goss must have felt Carter’s breath on him for each of those seconds as he was hounded into five turnovers and 2-for-10 shooting from the field.
“They make it very helter-skelter, they deny all your passes,” Williams-Goss said. “It’s tricky. No one plays like West Virginia.”
And Carter hit what had the potential to be the game’s biggest shot – a pull-up 3-pointer from the top of the key after a Williams-Goss turnover that put the Mountaineers up 58-55 with 1:47 left in the game.
As the aches and bruises from Thursday’s game fade away, it must seem reward enough for the Bulldogs to not have to play a pressure defense like West Virginia again this year.
And facing a tournament field without Jevon Carter must feel like a lungful of fresh air after 40 minutes of holding one’s breath.
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