Rider To Present WVU With A Difficult Test
West Virginia’s recently improved turnover rate will be put to the test Wednesday night when the Mountaineers host the helter skelter Broncs of Rider.
Tipoff time is slated for 6:30 p.m. at the WVU Coliseum, and the game will be televised on AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh.
The Mountaineers haven’t faced Rider since back-to-back victories over the Broncs in the 1977-78 season (61-58) and the 1978-79 campaign (86-66). Bob Huggins was a graduate assistant coach at WVU for the first of those meetings, and prior to Tuesday’s practice, the veteran Mountaineer head coach (848-343), now in his 11th season leading his alma mater, joked that he’d have to look through his file cabinet and see if he still has that 41-year-old scouting report on the Broncs.
That 1977-78 Rider club finished 11-16. The one Huggins’ squad is preparing for now comes to Morgantown with a 2-1 record, having lost at UCF (84-70) in the season opener, but then bouncing back against Coppin State (87-67) and at Wagner (89-65) in the past two games.
Four of the Broncs’ top five scorers from last year’s 22-10 team return this season. Dimencio Vaughn, a 6-foot-5 sophomore swingman, led last year’s squad in scoring (16.1 points per game) and rebounding (6.7 per game) and is doing so again this season, averaging 17.3 points and 6.0 rebounds in RU’s first three game. The Broncs, who won last year’s MAAC title with a 15-3 conference mark, are again picked to win the league. Upset in the first round of the MAAC tournament last spring, the Broncs played in the NIT, losing at Oregon, 99-88.
Under seventh-year coach Kevin Baggett (109-90), who played at St. Joseph’s in the mid-‘80s and thus knows WVU from those days when both were in the Atlantic 10, Rider likes to play fast. It averaged 81.9 points a game last year and is posting 82.0 per outings this season. It also creates turnovers, having forced 15.4 per game in 2017-18 and 14.3 so far this year.
“They’re good,” Huggins said of this year’s Bronc squad. “They’re veteran and know each other well. Their two guard (sophomore Jordan Allen, who was 92-of-239 from three-point range last year) can really shoot it. They rebounding it really well for not being overly big (+2.6 in the rebounding department last season). They do a lot of things. They press a couple different ways. This will be a tough test for us.”
The biggest test for the Mountaineers, though, will probably be the Mountaineers. Turnovers were WVU’s major undoing in the early portion of the season, and most of those giveaways were not forced. West Virginia had a total of 59 turnovers in its first three games, and lost two of those. In the past two outings, the Mountaineers have averaged just 9.5 turnovers per, and they won both.
“It’s still early for us, and we have a long ways to go,” explained WVU’s freshman point guard Jordan McCabe. “We still have a lot of things to work on. I think we’re getting better, and that’s the goal each day, to get better that day. It’s a learning process
“We had seven turnovers against Valparaiso, and that was a whole lot better then what we had been doing earlier,” he added. “We kept the turnovers below double digits that last game, and that should be our goal every time. Rider is going to come in here and try to pressure us for 40 minutes, and that’s fine. If we limit turnovers and take good shots, we should be good this game and every game.”
Beetle Bolden and Wesley Harris, who did not play because of a “coach’s decision” against Valparaiso, both were full go in practice on Tuesday. Freshman forward Derek Culver, who was indefinitely suspended from the team a couple weeks ago, was not in attendance, though.