Two of the four big men in the Mountaineers’ rotation went down due to first half injuries.
Coach Bob Huggins said Kevin Noreen and Dominique Rutledge both were bothered by ankle issues. The severity of the injuries wasn’t immediately evident after the game, but Huggins did note that both did not even return to the bench area to be with their teammates, so the injuries weren’t exactly trivial in nature.
It didn’t exactly help WVU’s cause that the team was without senior guard Matt Humphrey, who sat out due to a shoulder injury. Huggins indicated the staff hoped to give Humphrey a few extra days to recover before the team’s next game against Marshall next week in Charleston.
“How about my cough? You don’t care about that?” Huggins said wryly when a reporter asked if Noreen’s status was known. “But he played, ran up and down the floor about two or three more times after it happened, so I assume it’s just a sprain.”
With those two out of action and Deniz Kilicli on the bench after picking up two fouls in the first 2:18 of the game, WVU went to a small lineup at times and used Aaric Murray at others.
Huggins said it wasn’t the way he had planned things, but the strategy paid off. West Virginia used its athleticism to key a 24-4 run to turn an early 11-6 deficit into a 30-15 lead. Nine Mountaineers scored in the first half, as the team had a 20-0 edge in bench scoring in building a 48-31 halftime advantage.
Player of the Game
“We kind of had what we had,” Huggins said. “We had to play somebody at the four [spot].”
The Keydets (3-4) never recovered, as WVU built its lead to as many as 36 points with 3:57 remaining and emptied its bench, playing walk-ons Aric Dickerson and Richard Romeo in the latter minutes.
Still, Huggins was not pleased with what he said was inconsistent play from his team, which relied too much on its athleticism in the second half instead of running solid halfcourt offense. Lack of effort down the stretch also bothered the head coach
“That is our biggest problem,” Huggins said. “I told them in there, our biggest problem is when we practice for two hours, I get an hour and 40 minutes out of them. If we go for three hours, I get two hours. Maybe two hours and 10 minutes. Consequently, you don’t get 40 minutes out of them when you play 40 minutes. That’s what we have to do a better job of.
Despite those deficiencies, WVU shot 45.1 percent from the field and, if not for Huggins’ decision to empty the bench early, would have easily topped the 100-point benchmark. West Virginia has scored 100 or more points in only four games in the last decade.
Guard Juwan Staten led seven Mountaineers in double figures with 18 points. He added seven rebounds, three assists and a steal in only 26 minutes of action.
“He played a lot better,” Huggins said of the Dayton transfer. “He pushed the ball, and we need him to push the ball and get us easy opportunities ... I think he looked up the floor better. I think he advanced the ball up the floor better. He was better at the defensive end.”
Kilicli returned from his early foul trouble to score 13 points and grab five rebounds in only 16 minutes. Murray added 13 points and nine boards, while Keaton Miles had a career-high 11.
For VMI, Stan Okoye scored 14 points and had eight rebounds. All of his scoring came in the first half. Center D.J. Covington added 12 points, and reserve Tim Marshall scored 11 for what was clearly an outmanned Keydets squad.
“I guess it helps us,” VMI coach Duggar Baucom said of the game against a marquee opponent. “It certainly helps our budget. There’s 95,000 reasons we played this game, and none of them are my idea.”
“Their guys look like they live in the weight room,” he added. “They’ve got some big, strong guys. I thought they really imposed their will and made it the kind of game they wanted it to be.”