Huggins: WVU Forced Things Early, Upped Its Play Late
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia was a round peg in a square hole early against American.
The Mountaineers were pressing – literally and figuratively – on defense and forcing shots on offense. It led to a deficit more than midway through the initial 20 minutes, and required both an attitude and approach adjustment. Once those were made, the Mountaineers outscored its Patriot League opponent by 22 points in one second half stretch to win 98-64.
“We made shots,” head coach Bob Huggins said of the second-half improvement. “We had shots in the first half, we just didn’t make any. We forced things. We didn’t really take what we had. I thought we did a better job in the second half taking what they gave us rather than forcing things.”
Jevon Carter did that and then some, securing nine steals – just two off tying to all-time school record – and scoring 20 points. It was the ninth 20-point game of Carter’s career and third in the past four games dating to the Sweet 16 run of a season ago. Carter’s nine thefts are the most by any Mountaineer since Mike Boyd matched that mark 27 years ago. It was part of 22 turnovers by American overall, 14 off WVU steals. A fine number, but one that Huggins would like to see spread throughout the defense.
“We continually turn guys loose,” Huggins said. “We had 14 steals and J.C. had nine of them. I’d have a hard time saying the other guys did it when he had nine. He has great anticipation and great feet. He takes the ball. He doesn’t slap at it.”
After righting the second half ship, West Virginia ended up with edges in total field goals, shooting percentage and assists with glaring advantages in offensive rebounding (16-8), free throws (29-13) and points off turnovers (28-2), in the paint (42-24) and in bench scoring (36-15). Part of the latter came from state native Logan Routt. The forward from Cameron hit for six points and four rebounds with four assists and a block in among his better performances.
“He’s an interesting guy,” Huggins said. “He works. He plays better in games than he does in practice. Some of the things he did today he doesn’t do in practice. We can go two weeks and he doesn’t block a shot in practice and as soon as he gets in he blocks a shot. That’s a hard block. He was as good as everybody else was. Great kid. Like Nate (Adrian), like Chase (Harler) he understands what it means to put that West Virginia jersey on.”
Huggins joked that there was a parade going on in Cameron after the game, the town of 946 outside Wheeling celebrating Routt’s stat line and his 15 minutes played. West Virginia utilized 10 players overall in trying to develop depth and better conditioning after A&M ran the Mountaineers ragged in Germany.
“We had so much to teach that we didn’t run up and down enough,” Huggins said of trying to bring along a vastly different team than the one he had a season ago. “You know, the way it turned out in Germany if we had run up and down enough we would probably be saying we didn’t stop and teach enough. You can only do so many things. We really only have two returning guys. Beetle (Bolden) didn’t play last year. Chase and Magic (Bender) didn’t play last year hardly at all. We have a lot of teaching to do.
“We do things, we just don’t do things consistently. We got spoiled. Continue to get better, continue to make strides and continue to get better. Sometimes it’s hard to play against teams like this where they all pass it pretty good and move pretty good.”
Conspicuously absent from the floor was forward Sags Konate. Konate warmed up and dressed by sat at the end of the bench and did not play.
“Sags is a great kid, he really is,” Huggins said. “But he has to learn than he has to do what he’s asked to do. I’m sure he will after this. It wasn’t a suspension or anything. I just didn’t want to play him.”