SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- West Virginia’s Casey Mitchell did just about everything he could to help the Mountaineers try to beat Minnesota in Sunday night’s Puerto Rico Tip-Off final.
Foul problems plagued a number of other players and even seldom-used bench players like freshman Kevin Noreen had to step in to provide some hustle and production.
In Friday’s semifinal win over Vanderbilt, Bryant scored 11 points on 2-of-11 shooting with six assists and one turnover. But against Minnesota, he wasn’t just off. He admittedly disappeared. And it cost the Mountaineers dearly as Minnesota lead guard Al Nolen scored 17 points, got to the line 12 times (converting 11), and backcourt teammate Blake Hoffarber connected on four 3s.
Bryant played just 10 minutes, took (and missed) one shot and finished with more turnovers (3) than points (0) and assists (1).
“I let my team down,’’ Bryant said. “We’re going to be good regardless of losing this game. But honestly, I didn’t show up to play. I let my team down. I was a no-show. We’ll get better. This is a long season and it’s just the third or fourth game of the season. We’re a talented bunch. We just have to pick it up. We will and we’ll win.’’
The Eers discovered they have a shooter and go-to scorer on the trip in Mitchell. He followed up his 31-point, game-winning-3 performance against Vandy with a 27-point showing against the Gophers. Mitchell, a senior, is no longer waging verbal warfare with West Virginia coach Bob Huggins.
“I’m a senior and I’ve got nothing to lose, so I’m focused every night,’’ Mitchell said. “If my shot doesn’t fall, I’ve got to help my team somewhere else and make the pass to an open man.’’
The Mountaineers didn’t get special play out of Kevin Jones or John Flowers on the wing. Deniz Kilicli is still a work in progress. Bryant and Joe Mazzulla were either erratic or not as productive. The role players -- Cam Thoroughman, Dan Jennings, Dalton Pepper and Noreen -- all had their moments of contribution.
But the reality is, West Virginia can only be a Big East contender if Mitchell makes shots, Bryant is locked in, Jones becomes a special talent and the rest of the players hit the boards.
It didn’t help on Sunday that the Mountaineers weren’t the more physical team and didn’t draw fouls. The Gophers went to the line 35 times compared to WVU’s 23.
West Virginia wasn’t exactly the most physical team here.
"We haven’t been this year,’’ Huggins said. “Generally we are. As a rule, we haven’t been this year.’’
And that needs to change for the Mountaineers to reach their potential.