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CURRENT STORIES


WVU looks to end skid at MSG

by Greg Talkington

SPORTS WRITER

In the past few years, West Virginia's ventures to Madison Square Garden have usually been short and of no consequence.

The Mountaineers have never made it past the second round of the Big East Basketball Tournament, only once having made it past the first round.

Since beginning play in the conference in 1996, WVU is 1-7 in the league tournament. The lone win came in 1997 against Seton Hall. Not even the 1998 squad which made it to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament could pull off a first-round win.

The 10th-seed Mountaineers (15-12, 7-9) will try to change this negative trend tonight against Notre Dame (16-11, 9-7). Tipoff is 7 p.m., and the game will be shown live on ESPN.

Providence blew out the Mountaineers last season in the first round, 73-50.

"We felt like we got embarrassed last year," junior forward Tyrone Sally said. "We don't want that to happen again.

"We have to be positive and motivated. If we are, then we'll have a chance."

West Virginia has experienced little success against the Irish in recent seasons, another trend WVU hopes to reverse. The Mountaineers have lost nine straight to the Irish.

"For some reason, we haven't been able to get over the hump against them," WVU guard Johannes Herber said. "We did not play well against them this season, but last year, we had a chance to beat them here.

"We've controlled Chris Thomas all three times we've played them, but someone else always comes up with a big game for them."

Thomas, Notre Dame's all-Big East point guard, scored 13 points and had eight assists during ND's 56-55 win last season in Morgantown. He had just 13 points and seven assists in their only meeting this year in South Bend, a 62-53 Irish victory.

But senior forward Torrian Jones, who averages 9 points and 6.1 rebounds, scored 17 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in the latter game.

"Jones really beat us on hustle plays," Herber said. "We have to come up with those kind of plays if we want to win the game."

Second-year coach John Beilein recalled Jones' play.

"He had seven offensive rebounds in that game and probably got to two or three key loose balls in that game," Beilein said. "We have to win 50 percent of those battles to have a chance."

Thomas leads the Irish with a 19.4 scoring mark. Guard Chris Quinn adds 14.3 points. Junior forward Jordan Cornette (6-9, 236) adds 5.8 points and 5.7 rebounds while senior center Tom Timmermans (6-11, 270) contributes 6.3 points and 4.3 rebounds.

Timmermans took over for the injured Torin Francis, and surprisingly, the Irish have not missed a beat.

"Francis is more of an offensive threat and shot blocker, but Timmermans really gives them a wide body out there," Herber said. "He's tough to get around."

West Virginia will counter with junior center D'or Fischer (6-11, 240), sophomore forward Kevin Pittsnogle (6-10, 236), Sally (6-7, 200), Herber (6-6, 215) and sophomore point guard J.D. Collins (5-10, 190).

Fischer leads WVU in both scoring (10.8) and rebounding (6.3) and was second in the league in blocked shots (3.8). Pittsnogle adds 10.3 points while Sally contributes 9.8 points and 5.1 rebounds.

Herber adds 7.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.4 assists. Collins leads the team in assists (3.5).

Sophomore guard Patrick Beilein (6-4, 205) adds 8.8 points as the sixth man. Freshman point guard Tyler Relph (6-0, 185) contributes 5.3 points.

The winner of tonight's clash will face second-seed Connecticut at 7 p.m. Thursday.

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