MORGANTOWN - After losing back-to-back games against Top 25 teams Villanova (66-50) and Pittsburgh (71-66), West Virginia University's basketball team got back in the win column on Saturday when the Mountaineers held off Big East doormat DePaul, 82-71.
The win, WVU's 16th overall and seventh in conference play, could not have come at a better time, however, as the old gold and blue close out the regular season portion of its schedule by facing five ranked teams in its last six games.
West Virginia (16-8, 7-5 Big East) begin its "murderers row" of games at 7 p.m. today when it travels to the Carrier Dome to take on No. 12 Syracuse (20-6, 7-6 Big East).
West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins, left, gives instructions to Casey Mitchell during a break against DePaul. The Mountaineers won, 82-71.
The game will be televised by ESPN with Sean McDonough, Bill Rafferty and Jay Bilas calling the game.
A victory over the Orange will not only go a long way in padding the Mountaineers' NCAA resume, but also will allow them to break a three-way log jam with St. John's and Villanova for fifth place heading into the Big East tournament in March.
Balance proved to be the key for WVU in its win over DePaul on Saturday as five players scored in double figures led by John Flowers' 15 points. Joe Mazzulla and Deniz Kilicli chipped in with 12 points apiece while Darryl Bryant and Casey Mitchell added 11 each.
Dalton Pepper (9), Kevin Jones (8) and Cam Thoroughman (4) closed out the scoring for West Virginia, which shot 52.8 percent from the floor and eclipsed the 80-point mark for the first time since a 93-63 win over Providence back on Jan. 13.
WVU will take on a foe-Syracuse-which owns a 32-16 edge in the all-time series and has captured 11 of the last 12 meetings between the two Big East foes.
More importantly, the Mountaineers will be playing at a site-the Carrier Dome-where they have struggled, winning only one of nine games played there. That only victory came during the 1996-97 campaign when WVU prevailed by a 101-79 margin. Bob Huggins' squad does have two other victories at the Carrier Dome having defeated Kentucky (73-66) and Washington (69-56) in the 2010 NCAA East Regional.
Syracuse is coming off of a 73-69 loss to Louisville on Sunday, but is 13-3 at home heading into its only meeting with the Mountaineers this season.
Junior forward Kris Joseph lead the Orange in scoring with a 14.7 points per game average and will be joined in the starting lineup by 6-foot-9 senior Rick Jackson (12.9 ppg, 11.2 rpg) at the other forward slot and 6-10 sophomore Baye Moussa Keita (2.6) at center.
The guards will be sophomores Scoop Jardine (12.4) and Brandon Triche (10.8).
In their only meeting last season Triche tallied a team-high 16 points and dished out five assists as the Orange came into the Coliseum and dealt the then-No. 10 Mountaineers a 72-71 setback.
Bryant scored a game-high 18 points while Pepper and Jones chipped in with 15 and 11 points, respectively, but it was not enough as a Jardine free throw with seven seconds left on the clock gave the visitors a four-point, 72-68, margin. Bryant hit his fourth triple of the game with five seconds left and WVU had a chance to pull out the win after two misses by Kris Joseph from the charity stripe.
WVU, however, could not get a shot off before the final buzzer sounded.
Huggins, who is 1-3 against Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim, will go with a starting lineup which includes Jones (13.0), Thoroughman (2.3) and Flowers (10.0) at the forwards with Bryant (10.6) and Mazzulla (6.5) at the guards.
Mitchell, who leads the team with a 15.0 points per game average, but was suspended for three games, will come off the Mountaineers' bench as will Kilicli (7.6). Also look for Pepper (4.3) and Jonnie West (3.4) to see playing time against the Syracuse zone defense.