Mid-March is annually the Holy days of college basketball. But in 2020, the gyms are silent and the NCAA Tournament will not be played for the first time since its inception in 1939. We will never know what would have been for the 2020 West Virginia Mountaineers in their quest for One Shining Moment. In it’s place, let’s use the Wayback Machine to look back at the best tournament games for the Mountaineers. We are selecting the best WVU game for each round of the tournament – Round of 64, Round of 32, Sweet 16, Elite 8, Final Four and National Championship Game. Each day will feature a new top WVU NCAA Tournament game, culminating with the finals.
Part 2 of 6: Round of 32
2005 Albuquerque Regional; Cleveland, Ohio
(7) West Virginia 111, (2) Wake Forest 105, 2 OT
WVU is in the midst of the most successful 15-year stretch of basketball in program history. That stretch unofficially started with this game.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer called this “The Best College Basketball Game Ever Played in Cleveland”
West Virginia coach John Beilein was in his third season of an effort to rebuild a Mountaineers program that had fallen on hard times during the end of the Gale Catlett era. Beilein wasn’t the university’s first choice to replace Catlett when he retired in 2002. WVU first hired then-Bowling Green coach Dan Dakich. But eight days later, Dakich said the program was in such disarray that he wanted no part of it and bolted his new job and returned to Bowling Green. That led WVU athletic director Ed Pastilong to hire Beilein from Richmond to take over the basketball program.
That runner-up choice turned out to be one of the best hires in school history.
A strong run to the Big East Tournament finals in 2005 lifted West Virginia off the tournament bubble into a seven seed in the tournament. A last-second shot by Johannes Herber lifted WVU over 10-seed Creighton, 63-61, in the first round and set up a monumental second-round challenge against Wake Forest.
Wake Forest spent much of the season ranked in the top five and was led by preseason player of the year candidate and future NBA superstar guard Chris Paul. Paul teamed with Eric Williams as one of the best one-two combinations in the country.
To tab the Mountaineers as underdogs is the ultimate understatement.
In the first half, the Demon Deacons showed their athletic superiority in amassing a 13-point halftime lead. Six of Wake’s first eight points came off of dunks.
It looked as if WVU’s post-season run would die on the shores of Lake Erie.
But the resilient Mountaineers weren’t dead. WVU didn’t slice into the Wake lead on the back of their sharp-shooting from 3-point range (7 for 21 for the game) as much as it did from a disciplined and effective half-court offense. The Mountaineers hit 52.9 percent from the field and had only 11 turnovers in 50 minutes of basketball.
WVU clawed back to tie the game at 77 and had a chance to win it in regulation. But J.D. Collins potential game-winning runner missed and the game went to overtime.
With time running out in the first overtime and the game tied at 93, Mike Gansey fed a beautiful back-door bounce pass to Herber under the basket for the game-winner. But Wake’s Williams leaped and rejected Herber’s lay-up attempt, and the exhausted teams went to a second overtime.
In the second OT, Gansey continued his dominance and carried the Mountaineers to victory. The Cleveland-area native was incredible in front of a slew of friends and family, scoring a game-high 29 points (19 in the two overtimes) and also grabbed seven rebounds. Gansey and the Mountaineers took and held the lead throughout the second extra period and WVU prevailed for the 111-105 shocker.
The overtimes turned the contest into a game of attrition as five players fouled out. For WVU, Collins, D’Or Fisher and Tyrone Sally fouled out while Wake lost Paul and Justin Gray with five fouls.
WVU had five players in double figures – Gansey, Sally (21), Fisher (15), Herber (13) and Collins (12). Fisher grabbed 10 rebounds to finish with a double-double.
In the 40 years before WVU’s upset of Wake, the Mountaineers were in the Sweet 16 once. In the 14 years after, they’ve been there seven times.
A golden era of West Virginia basketball had arrived.
Runner up: 1998: (10) WVU 75, (2) Cincinnati 74