March 18, 2005

(7) West Virginia 63, (10) Creighton 61

CLEVELAND -- The instant the ball left his hand, Nate Funk thought his 3-pointer was on target to give Creighton another last-minute win.

He didn't see Tyrone Sally coming up to block it. He couldn't believe the next thing he saw: Sally running downcount for a fast-break dunk to win it.

Sally partially blocked Funk's shot, then finished the play with a dunk with 2.9 seconds to play Thursday night, rallying West Virginia to a wild 63-61 first-round NCAA tournament win.

``That's one I'm going to have to think about for seven or eight months,'' a dejected Funk said in a teary locker room.

West Virginia (22-10) will play second-seeded Wake Forest on Saturday. The Demon Deacons beat Chattanooga 70-54 to advance to the second round in the Albuquerque Regional.

Creighton (23-11) was knocked out because for once, everything didn't go the Bluejays' way in the final seconds. They'd won four games this season on their last possession, and nine of their last 11 that were decided by a point.

This time, their two final shots never even touched the rim.

Sally, who had only two points in the first half, played the leading role down the end. His two free throws tied it at 61 with 42 seconds left. He then got a piece of Funk's 3-point shot, deflecting it to a teammate to start a fast break.

``It seemed like I had a good look,'' said Funk, who led Creighton with 23 points. ``It seemed like he came out of nowhere.''

Then, Sally was off to catch a pass and make the uncontested dunk that provided a storybook ending to a personal performance that started with disappointment -- the senior had only two points in the first half.

``I was having a terrible game,'' said Sally, who finished with 12 points. ``I figured if I keep playing and do the little things, I'd get myself into the game and things would start to happen for me.''

After his dunk, Creighton had one more shot. Funk caught in inbounds pass from midcourt with 1.7 seconds left, turned and fired a 22-footer that easily cleared defender Mike Gansey and flew harmlessly over the rim at the buzzer.

``From my view, the shot looked good,'' Gansey said. ``It was just too long.''

The Mountaineers then raised their arms and celebrated career win No. 500 for coach John Beilein, who also has led Canisius and Richmond to NCAA tournament appearances.

Kevin Pittsnogle had 17 points for West Virginia, which went 8-of-20 from behind the arc.

Creighton's Johnny Mathies, the Missouri Valley tournament's MVP, made all of his five shots in the first half and had 14 points. He picked up his fourth foul with 9:22 left and fouled out with 2:21 to go, scoring only two points in the second half.

The Creighton cheering section included famous graduates Kyle Korver, in town with the Philadelphia 76ers for an NBA game the next night, and Cavaliers coach Paul Silas, sitting a few feet away.

Both teams love to push the pace and fire away from behind the arc. West Virginia set a school record for 3s this season and made an average of 8.9 per game, one of the top figures in the nation. Creighton was right behind at 8.6 per game.

Double-digit leads evaporated in the time it took to swish a few 3s.

Creighton stunned West Virginia by hitting its first four shots -- two of them from behind the arc -- and pulling ahead 10-0. Beilein called a 30-second timeout to regroup Mountaineers, who are experienced at putting together 3-point binges but not at defending them.

Pittsnogle, a 6-foot-11 center, ended West Virginia's scoreless streak with a jumper, then hit a 3 from the top of the key as part of a tying 10-point run. Once their bulky center with the feathery touch started hitting 3s, the Mountaineers were rolling. Pittsnogle had a three-point play during another 10-point spurt that put West Virginia up 33-22.

The Bluejays opened the second half the way the did the first, hitting their first three shots from behind the arc -- two by Funk -- for a 40-36 lead.

The Bluejays' lead fluctuated between two and five points for the next 12 minutes, until Sally hit a tying 3 and Gansey's fast-break dunk put West Virginia up 55-53. There were three more lead changes before Sally's two free throws tied it again at 61 with 42 seconds to go.

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