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Briggs, Sally help Mountaineers rally from seven-point halftime

by Greg Talkington

SPORTS WRITER

MORGANTOWN -- University of North Carolina-Greensboro players headed for their dressing room with a seven-point, 30-23 lead over West Virginia at the intermission Saturday afternoon at the Coliseum.

Little did they know the Mountaineers had them right where they wanted them.

West Virginia pulled close early in the second half, used a 13-1 run in the middle of the segment to gain a double-digit lead, and then held on for a 64-54 victory over the Spartans.

"I don't want to say I want to be losing at the half, but with that, being seven points behind gets my players attention," said WVU coach John Beilein, whose team raised its record to 4-1 on the season. "Playing a lot of freshmen and sophomores, they realize their backs are against the wall when they go back out on the court.

"I'd rather have their full attention at halftime than in 30-second segments (timeouts) late in the game."

It was the all-around play of sophomore forward Tyrone Sally, and the spark ignited by senior center Chaz Briggs that kept that from happening.

Sally scored a career-high 20 points and grabbed seven rebounds to lead the Mountaineers. Briggs came off the bench to key the 13-1 spree, scoring five of his nine points during the run.

He also had seven rebounds. Drew Schifino added 15 points for WVU.

The Mountaineers outscored UNC-G, 14-7, at the outset of the second half and tied it at 37-37 on Schifino's drive with 13:28 to play. Sally, who hit all four of his 3-point tries, then connected for one off the right wing at the 12:35 mark to give WVU a 40-39 lead.

Greensboro regained the lead when James Maye followed his own missed foul shot to make it 42-40 with 11:55 remaining.

Beginning with Briggs' old-fashioned three-point play 11 seconds later, West Virginia outscored the Spartans 16-3 during the next 3:43 of action. Josh Yeager capped the surge with a 25-footer off the left wing to make it 56-45 with 8:27 remaining.

Despite some horrible free throw shooting by WVU, Greensboro could not draw any closer than seven down the stretch.

The Mountaineers missed six of seven foul shots in the final 2:51, but the Spartans failed to capitalize. Jay Joseph's three-pointer with :55 remaining pulled Greensboro to within seven (61-54), but it was the only shot the Spartans made in the final 3:40.

"I can't explain it, but for some reason we play better in the second half," Schifino said. "We got motivated being down by seven and we played better defense in the second half."

Joseph led the Spartans, now 3-3, with 13 points.

West Virginia started strong and led 12-3 when Kevin Pittsnogle scored off a sharp pass from Schifino at the 14:23 mark.

But the Spartans with a 22-8 run which saw them gain a 25-20 lead on Luke Boyth's steal and layup with 2:20 left in the half. After Sally answered with a triple off the right wing, reserve Ray Bristow hit a pair of baskets in the final :49 for the visitors' seven-point halftime edge.

"We didn't get it in low enough and just settled for jump shots," said UNC-G coach Fran McCaffery. "I think if we'd have attacked the blocks and not stayed on the perimeter, we could have got more done.

"We took way too many jump shots."

The Mountaineers will spend the next few days preparing for final exams and won't be in action again until next Saturday, when they host Wofford.

The Terriers stunned Virginia Tech, 79-77, this past Monday.

Sports writer Greg Talkington can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at gtalkington@exponent-telegram.com