SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Brandon Triche is Syracuse's top free throw shooter, and in his mind if the first one he takes in a game feels good he's going to have a good game at the line.
On Saturday, with West Virginia and the third-ranked Orange clawing for a victory and the score tied 61-all with 88 seconds left, Triche swished a pair of free throws -- his only attempts of the game -- and Syracuse held on for a 63-61 victory.
"It just happened to be me tonight," said Triche, who led the Orange with 18 points. "We showed heart, mental toughness."
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After Triche's free throws -- he's 38 of 44 on the season -- the Mountaineers missed four straight shots, including an airball 3 by Darryl "Truck" Bryant and an attempt on the follow by Deniz Kilicli, who caught the ball under the basket. Playing with four fouls, Syracuse center Baye Keita helped deny Kilicli's shot and appeared to get away with goaltending that wasn't called.
"We did pretty good as a team," said the 6-foot-11 Keita, who matched his season high by playing 25 minutes in the absence of starting center Fab Melo and registered three blocks and four points. "I'm just supposed to try to block those shots. Luckily, I got it and the ref missed it [the goaltending call]. I don't know if that's a goaltending or a block."
It was goaltending in the mind of West Virginia coach Bob Huggins.
"Do I think it was? No. I know it was. I saw the replay," Huggins said. "It's hard. You've got 30 seconds and you're trying to get them refocused and they're all thinking about other things."
Kris Joseph snared the crucial rebound for Syracuse but lost the ball out of bounds with 6.2 seconds left, prompting a tirade from coach Jim Boeheim and giving West Virginia one last shot. Unable to drive the lane as planned, Jabarie Hinds passed to Kevin Jones in the left corner as C.J. Fair stormed at him, and his desperation 3 at the buzzer fell short.
"We beat ourselves," Gary Browne said. "We've dug ourselves in a hole where we aren't supposed to be. We feel hurt right now. This loss hurt us a lot."
Syracuse won its second straight since a loss at Notre Dame and did so despite being hammered 41-20 on the boards, 24-9 in the second half, and missing 16 of 20 3-point attempts. Still, there was a battle for every loose ball under the baskets and the Mountaineers only finished with a 13-8 edge on second-chance points, not much to show for a 19-5 edge on the offensive glass.
"This was one of those games where if you don't make shots, it's going to come down to who makes a play at the end," Boeheim said.
Syracuse (22-1, 9-1 Big East) has won 13 of the past 14 games against West Virginia (15-7, 5-4). The win was the 878th for Boeheim, moving him within one of tying former North Carolina coach Dean Smith for third in Division I history.
Joseph finished with 13 points and seven rebounds, Scoop Jardine had nine points and five assists and Dion Waiters had eight points for the Orange, who played their third game without Melo.
The 7-foot center, who leads the Big East in blocks, watched the game from the bench in street clothes, shouting encouragement at his teammates. After starting the first 20 games of the season and becoming a force in the paint, the big Brazilian has not played since logging 29 minutes in a home win over Pitt nearly two weeks ago. Melo is ineligible because of academic issues but has been practicing with the team, and Boeheim is hopeful he'll be able to return to the lineup.
Jones led West Virginia with 20 points and eight rebounds. Bryant had 12 points, all in the second half, and Browne scored 11.
The Mountaineers were coming off a 78-62 loss at St. John's on Wednesday night, a game in which the Red Storm started five freshmen, but they led most of the first half in this one and never trailed by more than three points in the final 17 minutes.
Syracuse led by four to start the second half and made it 33-27 on Triche's steal and layup with 18:57 to go. After that, it was anybody's game. The score was tied seven times, the last when Jones hit a 3 from the left corner to knot it at 61 with 1:41 left.
"They do a great job of playing defense," Joseph said. "We found ways around that at the end. We did what we needed to."
The Orange were hampered by fouls to their big men. Keita picked up his fourth midway through the half and 6-9 freshman Rakeem Christmas fouled out with 4:58 to go.
Syracuse trailed most of the first half as the Mountaineers patiently attacked the 2-3 zone. Jones started the game by hitting consecutive mid-range jumpers from the heart of the Syracuse defense.
The Mountaineers led by six three times, the last at 22-16 after a 3-pointer by Jones from the left wing with 7:34 left, but they converted only one other basket in the closing minutes -- a runner by Hinds -- as Syracuse increased the defensive intensity with a press.
The Orange forced shot-clock violations on consecutive possessions in the final 3 minutes and Joseph's baseline drive and layup gave Syracuse a 25-24 lead with 68 seconds left, just the Orange's second lead of the half.
Waiters fed Jardine for a wide-open 3 from the right corner with 3.2 seconds left to give Syracuse a 28-24 halftime lead. It was just the second make in 11 tries from behind the arc for the Orange, who have struggled from long range in conference play, shooting 25 percent in the last six games.