MORGANTOWN - Just call West Virginia freshman Gary Browne ''Mr. Big Shot.''
His teammates do.
Browne, a true freshman from Puerto Rico via a Jacksonville, Fla., high school, hit a 3-pointer with 12 seconds left to tie Saturday's game against Cincinnati at 69-69, then followed up with what proved to be the game-winning basket in overtime, set up by his own steal, as the Mountaineers pulled out a 77-74 victory in a Big East rim-rattler at the WVU Coliseum.
West Virginia’s Kevin Jones (5) and Gary Browne, right, celebrate after Browne’s shot tied the game near the end of the second half.
''He's a big shot-taker,'' WVU's Kevin Jones said of Browne, ''and he's a big shot-maker. He has all the confidence to take the big shots.''
Browne's played all of 20 games in a WVU uniform and this was the second time he's hit a 3-pointer to send a game in overtime. He did the same thing against Missouri State on Dec. 22 (WVU won that one, too). Browne's made only eight 3-point shots all season.
"If I have an open shot," Browne said, "I'll take it."
In this case, he wasn't necessarily supposed to. Coming out of a timeout with the Mountaineers down three with 25 seconds left, the plan was to work the ball to Deniz Kilicli for a quick layup, then an even quicker foul.
''I saw (Browne's) man sleeping,'' Kilicli said. ''I screened and he got behind me and hit a wide-open shot.''
Kilicli flipped it to Browne, leading to his fifth assist of the day.
That was the last thing Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin wanted to see.
''We lost the game at the end of regulation,'' Cronin said. ''You can't back away from a guy and give him a step-in 3-point shot with a three-point lead.''
In the overtime session, West Virginia, which moved into a loss-column tie with Cincinnati and Georgetown - two teams it has beaten - for second place in the Big East, hit 4 of 5 free throws, with the one miss coming at the front end of a 1-and-1 where no one collected a rebound as time expired.
All of that ended what had been a hard-to-do, seven-game conference road winning streak for the Bearcats (15-5 overall, 5-2 Big East), dating back to last season.
Jones, who hit his own monumental 3-pointer to give West Virginia a one-point lead with 1:48 to play in regulation, had a monster game with 26 points and 13 rebounds, his 13th double-double of the season. Jones remains the league leader in both scoring and rebounding.
There wound up being 12 lead changes throughout the game, but only one in the first half. The Mountaineers, (15-5, 5-2) who have won four straight in the series, led nearly wire-to-wire during the game's first 20 minutes. They pushed a lead to as high as nine with 4:56 remaining but were outscored 15-7 down the stretch. A layup by Cheikh Mbodj gave Cincinnati its only first-half lead, 33-32, with 6 seconds left.
Through it all, West Virginia's Truck Bryant, the leading scorer in conference play this season, suffered through a game he'd like to soon forget. Bryant was 2 of 16 from the floor, 0-for-8 from beyond the 3-point line, and 2 of 2 at the free-throw line. Things got so bad for him, even when he had one going in, Kilicli assisted it a little late and was called for goal tending. Bryant finished with six points.
Huggins brushed it off as fatigue and promised to give Bryant a couple of well-deserved days off.
Browne, a spark plug off the bench like few others, nearly missed his own double-double with 13 points and nine rebounds. He's 6-foot-1, 185 pounds but he's got nearly as many rebounds (81) as points scored this season (137).
Kilicli added 13 points and seven rebounds, while Jabarie Hinds rounded out WVU's double-digit scorers with 12 points, five rebounds, and four assists.