WVU Alumni Game A Thriller From All Angles
By Kevin Kinder
FAIRMONT, W. Va. – Casey Mitchell (2009-11) hit two of three free throws with 11.4 seconds remaining to give Team Final Four a 136-135 win over Team Press Virginia in the third annual WVU Basketball Alumni Game. Organized by John Flowers (2007-11) the third edition of the benefit contest provided plenty of thrills for a crowd of approximately 1,500 at Joe Retton Arena.
The game, in addition to serving as a charity fundraiser (this year’s beneficiary was the WVU Medicine Children’s Cure Kids Cancer Fund, which provides medical care and psychological and social support for patients and their families), also serves as a way for former players to stay connected, as well as allowing Mountaineer fans to see their favorite stars in action. As the closely contested game came down the stretch, though, competitive juices came to the fore.
“We wanted to make it a good game for the fans,” Mitchell said after making the last two of his trio of free throw attempts. “We also wanted to win too. It was a little bit of bragging rights. We’re glad to get the win. I didn’t even think they would call the foul in a game like this.”
With just five foul calls in the game, it’s understandable why Mitchell was a bit surprised.
Team Final Four turned the tables on Press Virginia in the late going, applying some pressure in the backcourt to rally from 11 points down with fewer than four minutes to play. That marked the final swing in a back-and-forth contest that saw Final Four jump out to an early first quarter lead, only to see Press Virginia come back strongly in the second to take the lead and hold it for much of the remainder of the contest.
Jaysean Paige set a new scoring record for the game, making 17 of 23 shots (5-9 3-pointers) on his way to 40 points. He expressed some mock outrage when Mitchell, who had 25, was named the game’s MVP, but that was just part of the fun of the evening. Truck Bryant also had 25 for Final Four, while Teyvon Myers had the same number for Press Virginia. Gary Browne, last year’s MVP, had 21.
The most important aspects of the game, though was the support of WVU Medicine along with the players’ reunion and the support of the fans.
“It’s crazy, but we know the fans here are great, and we wanted to put on a show for them and give back for all the support they showed when we were playing here,” Jones (2008-12) said. “Just watching some of these guys play, it was great.”
- Paige recorded several highlight reel dunks, including a pair on lobs from former teammate Tarik Phillip. “That was fun to reconnect on those,” Phillip said. “He’s been one of my guys for a long time.”
- The game was dominated by guards, as is expected in a contest such as this, but the bigs also had their moments in the sun. Kevin Jones and Devin Williams went one-on-one at each other on a couple of sequences, with each getting scores. That offset a great duel between Gary Browne and Paige at the start of the second half, as they traded four buckets while teammates cleared the floor for them.
- One of the bigger roars of the game came when Herbie Brooks (1985-89) nailed a 3-pointer. Brooks almost immediately retreated to the bench to unlace his shoes while smiling broadly and acknowledging the crowd.
- Team Press Virginia included mostly players from the more recent era of WVU Basketball, with James Long and Brandon Watkins joining Myers, Paige, Phillip, Browne and Williams. Jarrod West, Herbie Brooks, Brent Solheim and Jonathan Curran rounded out that squad.
- Team Final Four featured Jones and Mitchell alongside Tyrone Hughes, Joe Alexander, Joe Mazzulla, Juwan Staten, Josh Yeager, Truck Bryant Chris Moss and Flowers.
- Unsurprisingly, Williams led Press Virginia with 12 rebounds. Butler had 13 and Moss 10 for Final Four.
- Joe Alexander, who was on campus working out, came out after the game started and was coaxed into the contest. As he wasn’t expected, he wore a jersey that was set for Drew Schifino, who was a no-show. Likewise, Brandon Watkins donned Elijah Macon’s jersey.
- The teams combined to make 39 threes. Both squads shot over 50% in the largely defense-free contest.
- Current WVU players Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles were in attendance, along with former WVU assistant Billy Hahn.