Lack Of Effort Squelched At Half As West Virginia Rolls Past American
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia played what amounted to a half of basketball against American on Wednesday night.
That’s what a lackadaisical effort will get you. That and a severe tongue-lashing from head coach Bob Huggins at the half. After watching his Mountaineers surrender a double-digit lead in the opener against Texas A&M – being carved up defensively in the process – Huggins had seen enough at the break when WVU led the lowly Patriot League program 44-33.
It wasn’t the score, per say. It was that West Virginia had been outhustled at both ends and largely outworked on the boards by a significantly smaller team. Forwards Magic Bender and Logan Routt struggled early, as did guard Dax Miles, who experienced another off-shooting half. WVU missed nine of its first 11 shots, including all four three-pointers, and largely failed to control American in the press. That correlated to trailing 21-20 after the initial 12 minutes, the Mountaineers simply lacking the gusto Huggins wanted after the disappointing defeat in the first game.
“We didn’t have energy the first half,” point guard Beetle Bolden said. “Coach gave us one of those pep talks at the half and we turned it up a notch. You saw that when we came out. We were pumped to play the next opponent after the A&M game, but we just came out slow. Like I said, coach gave us that pep talk.”
Say no more. Huggins’ spark spurred the Mountaineers to a dominating second half where they outscored American by 23 points. The catalyst was a 26-4 run over a seven-plus minute span that boosted the advantage to 72-39 with more than 10 minutes left. Bolden jumpstarted the run by scoring the first seven points, while Jevon Carter added seven points of his own during the push – part of a game-high 20-point performance.
West Virginia went from its full court pressure to a simple man-to-man in the half court, and it suddenly started to pummel American on the boards while its offense came alive, slicing through the Eagles to easy lay-ins and a handful of highlight dunks – including an alley-oop from Carter to Miles. It wasn’t particularly pretty, but it was effective, and that’s a trait WVU badly needs of now as it tries to discover what type of team it truly is.
“I can’t pinpoint it, but I think rhythm,” Miles said of the mediocre display early. “We have to find our rhythm defensively and offensively. We did a better job of that in the second half. We have to get some stops. When we get stops it leads to good offense.”
The scoring spurt was unarguably the finest all-around display of play this season for the Mountaineers since building an initial 20-7 lead versus Texas A&M, and it showed an ability to finally impose the will against a smaller, outmanned opponent. It took a bit longer than anticipated, but the 98-64 final indicated what West Virginia should be doing to programs of such stature. American had 22 turnovers in all, including nine during the run, and managed just 21 field goals and eight offensive boards.
“Energy,” Bolden reiterated. “We came out and got together as a unit and talked about it and tried to come out there and turn it up to the point where they couldn’t run their offense.”
That, combined with the halfcourt defense, essentially turned a close contest into a rout. A myriad of questions remain as to what West Virginia can do against major conference foes. But for the home opener, it was a step.
“We are going to try to do whatever coach wants us to do,” Miles said. “We gotta play hard every night. You can’t beat that. Play hard, it doesn’t matter what you do.”
*Sags Konate dressed but sat at the end of the bench and did not play.
*Jevon Carter had nine steals, tying for the second-most in a game in WVU history. Drew Schfino had 11 vs Arkansas-Monticello in 2001. Three other players had nine, the most recent Mike Boyd 27 years ago vs Charlotte.