NEW YORK -- The Butler did it. Again.
Da'Sean Butler, West Virginia's last-second magician, made the winning shot with four seconds remaining Saturday to give the Mountaineers their first Big East Conference tournament championship at Madison Square Garden.
Fifteen years after joining the Big East Conference for basketball, West Virginia can finally lay claim to a championship. The Mountaineers are champions after beating Georgetown, 60-58.
West Virginia had never won a regular-season or tournament championship since joining the league in 1995.
"We wanted to win this for the state," Butler said. "They love and support us so much. That was our main concern, not letting the state down."
Butler's circus shot in the lane came two days after he banked in a 3-pointer from the top of the key to give the Mountaineers a victory against Cincinnati.
Butler, a 6-foot-7 senior from nearby Newark, N.J., was awarded the Dave Gavitt Trophy as the tournament's most outstanding player. Butler scored 20 points and grabbed six rebounds Saturday. For the tournament, he had 59 points.
The final two points came on the same play that coach Bob Huggins called in the Cincinnati game. Instead of shooting the 3-pointer this time, Butler gave a hesitation fake and drove to the basket.
"I scooped the layup off the glass, and it fell," Butler said.
West Virginia needed more of Butler's heroics after blowing a nine-point lead with a little more than seven minutes remaining. The Mountaineers led, 50-41, with 7:31 to go, but Georgetown tied the score at 56-56 with 57 seconds left after Austin Freeman made a 3-pointer from the wing.
With 27 seconds remaining, Georgetown junior Chris Wright inexplicably fouled West Virginia's Joe Mazzulla after the Mountaineers corralled an offensive rebound. Mazzulla made both free throws to give the Mountaineers a 58-56 lead.
Wright redeemed himself by driving into the paint and scoring with 17 seconds remaining to tie the score.
West Virginia called a timeout with nine seconds left and got the ball into the hands of its premier playmaker. Butler drove toward the hoop and threw up a shot that did not look like it had a chance to go in, but the basketball gods were smiling on the Mountaineers.
A few seconds later, John Denver's "Almost Heaven" blared from the loudspeakers.
While Butler provided the heroics again, the Mountaineers might not have been in position to win the game had it not been for a tremendous effort from senior forward Wellington Smith in the first half.
Smith, a 6-foot-7 senior who came into the game averaging 6.6 points and 3.9 rebounds per game, scored nine points and grabbed six rebounds in the first half to help the Mountaineers to a 32-28 halftime lead.
Smith's tip-in of an offensive rebound with three seconds left before halftime gave the Mountaineers their four-point halftime advantage.
Smith was 5 for 9 from the field, scored 11 points and pulled down 10 rebounds before fouling out late. He was 3 for 11 from the field and only scored seven points in the first two games of the tournament.
"That made up for all of those shots I missed earlier in the tournament," Smith said.
West Virginia (27-6) has won six in a row and has a chance to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The 65-team NCAA field will be announced at 6 p.m. today. The Mountaineers have won eight of their past nine and six in a row entering the NCAA tournament.
Huggins believes the Mountaineers have done enough to earn that No. 1 seed.
"We have 18 wins against the top 100 in the RPI," Huggins said. "That's the most of any team in the country. Our strength of schedule will be No. 1. Our RPI will be No. 2 or No. 3. They say to do those things. We've done those things."
NOTES -- West Virginia has won 16 of its past 22 at Madison Square Garden. ... The Mountaineers improved to 12-13 in Big East tournament play. ... The Mountaineers are 23-0 this season when holding their opponents to 69 points or fewer. ... Syracuse (2006) and Pitt (2008) remain the only two teams to win four games in four days to win the tournament. ... Seven of the 15 tournament games were decided by three points or fewer.
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1230. First Published March 14, 2010 5:30 AM