The 2005 season was the first in a while that garnered national attention for the Mountaineer hoops team. It was the first time in 7 years that they made an appearance in the top 25 and the first time in 7 years that they made the NCAA tournament. WVU got off to a blazing 10-0 start, hit a tough stretch in the middle of the season, and finished the regular season at 18-9. They shocked the world in the Big East tournament and made it all the way to the conference championship before losing to Syracuse.
A spot in the big dance was their reward for a very solid season. The Eers were able to squeak by in their first round matchup against Creighton, 63-61. That is where the journey was supposed to end. To make it to the Sweet 16, the #7 seed Mountaineers would have to go against heavily favored #2 seed Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons were a team that had spent most of the year ranked in the top 5 nationally, even spending a couple weeks at #1. They had finished the regular season at 26-4, and were led by a young sophomore who would soon leave for the NBA by the name of Chris Paul.
Chris Paul has been all over the news lately. He's the best player on a team surrounded by controversy due to their crazy owner and his crazy beliefs. He just led the Clippers into the Western Conference semifinals and has dreams for much more in the 2014 NBA season. If you say Paul is the best point guard in the world, you'll have little resistance. He's a terrific pro, and was a great college player. His NCAA tournament dreams, however, were dashed in the second round of the 2005 NCAA tournament by your West Virginia Mountaineers.
At halftime of the second round matchup, everything was going as expected. The Mountaineers trailed by 13 and most likely everyone expected Paul and the Demon Deacons to continue to pull away in the second half. But the Mountaineers didn't give up. They fought back in true John Beilein fashion, with zone defense, efficient offense, and backdoor cuts just like this one:
With 21 seconds left in regulation, Mike Gansey made 1 of 2 free throws to put the Mountaineers up 3. Wake Forest then got a 3 by Taron Downey with 13 seconds on the clock and a missed layup by JD Collins in the final seconds would send the game into overtime.
At the end of the first OT it again looked like WVU had done enough to get the upset. A three point lead was again erased in the final seconds by Downey, and a Joe Herber layup at the buzzer was rejected. When the second OT began, however, the Mountaineers showed they would no longer be denied. Great all-around play by Gansey, along with huge contributions from freshman Darris Nichols (took a charge and an unreal block after JD Collins had fouled out) sealed the victory and sent WVU into the Sweet 16. The Eers had a lead as large as 8 in double OT and finished the game with a 111-105 win.
WVU was led by Mike Gansey with 29, Tyrone Sally pitched in with 21, and D'Or Fischer had a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Kevin Pittsnogle only had 8 (3 HUGE ones in 2OT) in the win, but made up for it in the following two games, leading the team with 22 in the win over Texas Tech and 25 in the loss to Louisville. Chris Paul had 22 points and 9 assists for the Demon Deacons. Paul would later declare for the NBA draft, and go 4th overall to the New Orleans Hornets.
Some random notes about that night:
- The 111 points scored were the most ever by a Mountaineer team in the NCAA tournament.
- The game was one of five NCAA tournament games for the Mountaineers that went into overtime, and the only one that WVU has won (losses to Dartmouth in 1956, NYU in 1960, Louisville in 2005, and Xavier in 2008).
- The win gave WVU only their second appearance in the Sweet 16 in the previous 42 years.
The Mountaineers would go on to defeat Bob Knight's Texas Tech squad before losing an overtime heartbreaker in the Elite 8 to Louisville, a game in which the Mountaineers led by double figures at halftime.
Here are highlights of the game:
Or if you want to relive the whole thing in all it's glory:
And finally, Coach Beilein and the players reflect on the great postseason run: