02/06/2010 3:34 PM ET
Butler, Mountaineers win sixth straight
Newark native scores 24 points in second half to lead WVU
By Adam Zagoria / SNY.tv
De'Sean Butler caught fire down the stretch. (AP)

NEW YORK -- In the final minutes of West Virginia's 79-60 victory over St. John's Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden, Da'Sean Butler drained another 3-pointer -- his seventh of the day -- over St. John's forward Sean Evans.

All he could do was flash a smile and slowly backpedal down the court.

After struggling to score 9 points on 2-for-7 shooting in the first half, Butler made 7 of 11 shots and scored 24 points in a second half in which the Mountaineers outscored St. John's, 57-27. The Newark, N.J. native went a perfect 7-for-7 from behind the arc on the afternoon and finished with a season-best 33 points.

"I can't even give you an explanation on that. I'd just be making it up. I just stepped in [to] the shots and if somebody was in front of me, I just shot it higher," Butler said.

"It's always good when the other four guys are looking for Da'Sean," cracked West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, who wore a sweatsuit instead of a suit because he forgot his pants and shoes. "That makes us better."

No. 6 West Virginia (19-3, 8-2 Big East) overcame a 15-point second-half deficit to outscore the Johnnies 51-19 in the final 17:23.

West Virginia started five players from New York and New Jersey and the Mountaineers must have felt like they were playing a home game with all the blue and gold in the crowd.

Devin Ebanks, the Long Island City, N.Y. native, added 12 points, 10 rebounds and 4 assists and Mount Vernon, N.Y. native Kevin Jones tallied 13 points and 7 boards.

The Mountaineers will take a six-game winning streak into a "Big Monday" showdown on ESPN with No. 2 Villanova, which lost Saturday at Georgetown, 103-90.

Coming off a loss to a struggling Rutgers team on Tuesday, St. John's (12-10, 2-8) lost its fifth straight. The Johnnies fell for the sixth time this season after holding a halftime lead and are 2-8 in their last 10 games.

"No one's gonna give you a game," Red Storm coach Norm Roberts said. "There are no easy games in this league no matter where you play so you gotta battle it out."

St. John's looked like it might get its first signature win of the season when it took a 33-22 halftime lead behind 10 points from Justin Burrell and 8 from Justin Brownlee.

The Red Storm defense held West Virginia to its lowest total for a half this season.

At halftime, Huggins shouted so loudly at his team in the locker room that Burrell told Butler he could hear it down the hallway.

Huggins promised changes in the second-half lineup and then proceeded to sit the struggling Darryl "Truck" Bryant (1-for-6, 4 points) in favor of redshirt junior Joe Mazzulla, who didn't play a single minute in the first half.

Huggins wasn't even sure Mazzulla would be able to play at all after spraining his ankle Friday during practice.

"We were afraid he broke his foot," Huggins said. "We got him X-rayed [Saturday], he was good to go."

Still, St. John's went ahead 41-26 on a 3-pointer from Horne (12 points) before West Virginia got untracked.

The Mountaineers rattled off a 22-4 run that included four 3-pointers - two each by Wellington Smith (10 points) and Butler - to go up 48-45. They never relinquished the lead.

Mazzulla, who underwent shoulder surgery last season, ran the offense much more smoothly than did Bryant. His statistics were not gaudy but he finished with 3 assists and 1 turnover. He didn't score a single point but the offense looked completely transformed with Mazzulla in charge.

"I don't know that I've ever had one [player] that changes the game without scoring the ball," Huggins said of Mazzulla.

On top of inserting Mazzulla, Huggins also went to a 1-3-1 zone defense in the second half that completely flustered St. John's. The Red Storm had trouble finding gaps against West Virginia's length and didn't position someone on the high post to facilitate the offense.

"We knew they were going to play the zone," Roberts said. "It's not something you can really simulate in practice because of their length."

St. John's still got to within 56-54 on a basket by Omari Lawrence, but the Mountaineers rattled off 12 unanswered points - including back-to-back 3-pointers by Butler and Jones -- for a commanding 68-54 lead.

By the end of the game, West Virginia had pulled off a 34-point swing, going from down 15 to ahead by 19.

With five starters from the metropolitan area and a vocal crowd cheering them on, West Virginia had the upper hand even if it was playing on St. John's turf.

"It's special for anybody," Huggins said. "I can remember the first time I played here as a player. It's a dream come true to be able to say that you played in at Madison Square Garden. I think for a New York kid, of course they play here in high school in all-star games, but I think it's a special deal."

Adam Zagoria is a regular contributor to SNY.tv. Read his blog at ZagsBlog.com and follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/AdamZagoria.
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