CHARLESTON, W.Va. – It should be no surprise that Best Virginia, made up almost entirely of West Virginia alums, looks and plays in many ways like its former self, and that extends far beyond the familiar gold and blue colors and the play off the WVU name. BV, at times struggles to score. It can allow foes back into games it seemingly has in control. It misses too many free throws.
Countering, that, however, is a gritty determination to play hard no matter the circumstances, to keep grinding even when things aren’t going their way, even if they don’t like to admit it.
“Thankfully, we’re used to playing that brand of basketball,” said veteran Kevin Jones of his team’s ability to rally after less than sterling stretches of play. “I have faith that everybody will make the right plays.”
A lot of people rise to the occasion when their backs are against the wall,” guard Tarik Phillip added. “I guess you can say that. Adversity has been thrown at me all my life. That’s kind of my story. So it doesn’t faze me that much.”
In BV’s 63-51 win over D2, many items familiar to Mountaineer fans cropped up. BV missed four consecutive free throws in the second half, and made just 6-12 on the evening. It went a combined 6:14 over a stretch of the second and third quarters without adding a point to its total. BV was a tick under 43% shooting from the field and tallied only eight points in the second quarter. After jumping out to an early 22-12 lead at the end of the first quarter, it had some droughts which allowed D2 to rally and twice take one-point leads in the third.
Countering that, though, were all the familiar positives. There was trapping defense that helped force 15 turnovers and a D2 turnover percentage of 23.4%. Shots were contested everywhere, as D2 was held to 31.6% from the field and 20% from 3-point range, and averaged fewer than 0.8 points per possession. Defensive intensity ratcheted up just when it was needed most, as BV held D2 to just nine points over the five regulation minutes of the fourth quarter along with its Elam Ending possessions, and allowed just seven made field goals in the second half.
There were also unlikely standouts in differing roles. With BV needing a rebounding presence to help complement Jones, Alex Ruoff stepped in to grab a team-best 10. For the second consecutive game, Jamel Morris was a vital contributor, scoring 11 points and canning two of BV’s nine 3-pointers. All of that was more than enough to hold D2 at bay, but more scoring will almost certainly be required when BV faces off against Team 23, which is averaging 82.5 points in its two wins. Still, something suggests this team, full of veterans of Press Virginia and shaped by former coach Bob Huggins, will find a way to meet that challenge.
“You adjust from team to team, but we focus on what we do. Schemes do matter, but they don’t matter as much as the will to win,” Jones noted. “That’s what happened tonight. You want to execute well, but how bad did we want to win? That’s what it came down to.”