One night after banking in a three-pointer he admitted was lucky to beat Marquette, West Virginia's Da'Sean Butler had the ball in his hands at the top of the arc again with the clock running down. Butler should have used the glass. His shot bounced off the front of the rim and gave Notre Dame one last chance to come back trailing by two points.
But there was no luck o' the Irish for point guard Tory Jackson, whose three-pointer from the left wing clanked and was tipped to teammate Ben Hansbrough. He tried to go up for a tying shot before the buzzer, but the ball was slapped out of his hands with no whistle being blown. So, the Mountaineers held on to a 53-51 victory in the Big East semifinals tonight at the Garden.
Second-seeded West Virginia (26-6) advances to meet eighth-seeded Georgetown in the championship game Saturday night at 9. Only five Mountaineers scored led by Butler's 24 points. Kevin Jones added 10, and Devin Ebanks and Joe Mazzula had eight apiece.
Notre Dame (23-11) was led by Ben Hansbrough with 17 points, including 4 of 7 from three-point range. But the potential game-winning shot was taken by Jackson, who was only 1 for 6 from beyond the arc.
"The karma around him has been so good lately," Irish coach Mike Brey said of Jackson, 'that I figured we'd live and die with him."
Under ordinary circumstances, you figure the last shot would belong to three-time all-Big East forward Luke Harangody, the leading scorer in the conference. But in his third game back from a deep bone bruise on one knee, Harangody again came off the bench and played less than 26 minutes. He scored 10 points but took only six shots, making just two.
Despite his ineffectiveness, the Irish cut a 10-point deficit with 5:22 left to one at 48-47 with 2:58 to play thanks to a three-point play by Tim Abromaitis and a three-pointer by Hansbrough. But the Mountaineers' Mazzula made a tough layup, and after a miss by Jackson at the other end, Jones got to the line and hit two foul shots for a 52-47 lead. Hansbrough then hit a jumper and two foul shots around one free throw by West Virginia's Butler to make it a 53-51 game.
Asked what he was thinking when Jackson's potential game-winning shot was in the air, Butler shook his head and said, "Normally, I just think about boxing out, but I was like, 'Please don't let it go in' because of the free throw I missed and the bad shot I put up."
The reprieve obviously felt almost as good to Butler as it did to be the hero one night earlier. Now, if the No. 6 Mountaineers can capture their first Big East tournament title, they will have a chance to replace Syracuse as a No. 1 regional seed in the NCAA tournament.