"I was nervous," Kilicli admitted surprisingly, considering the docile turnout (6,041 in attendance) and the low-pressure nature of the contest. "I kind of zoned out after a while. We have to work on that in practice."
"That surprises me to hear that," head coach Bob Huggins said afterward. "A lot of these guys have played in front of 71,000 people."
Granted, many of the Mountaineers were playing in new roles. Kilicli was in his first starting assignment, while Dalton Pepper and Casey Mitchell are vying to become WVU's outside shooting threats. Even veterans, accustomed to supporting roles behind departed stars, are adjusting to becoming primary options. They'll have to make those changes quickly, as the season opener with Oakland is less than one week away.
Even with the sloppy play (the teams combined for 35 turnovers and just 38% shooting from the field), the Mountaineers were never seriously challenged. WVU slogged out to a 16-0 lead in the game's early stages, and the Braves didn't score until Ty Alston hit a free throw at the 13:40 mark of the first half. Along the way, UNCP missed its first eight shots and suffered six turnovers, and while the Braves then steadied their play a bit, they never got closer than 11 points the rest of the way.
West Virginia, seeking to see what its players could do in a game situation, used an unorthodox five-man substitution pattern through most of the first half. The starting five of Kevin Jones, John Flowers, Deniz Kilicli, Truck Bryant and Dalton Pepper played the first 4:45 of the game, then were replaced by Jonnie West, Joe Mazzulla, Casey Mitchell, Dan Jennings and Cam Thoroughman. The starting five returned at the under 12 media timeout, and the process again vice versaed at 6:43 of the opening period. Those moves weren't an indication of a new substitution pattern, but rather an effort to split up playing time evenly among those contending for major roles on the team.
"You know what Kevin can do, and Flowers, and Truck and Mazzulla," Huggins noted. "You don't know what the others can do. We're still looking for that."
One player that made his case was West, whose five three-pointers were a huge boost to a squad looking for long-range scoring. The senior, who missed summer workouts after deciding to concentrate on graduate school after West Virginia's Final Four run, meshed back into WVU's motion offense attack after just three weeks of work with his teammates.
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While not outwardly upset, Huggins found little else to be pleased about with West Virginia's play. When asked what he had learned from the night's game, it didn't take him long to reel off a litany of problems.
"We're not a good offensive rebounding team, we don't play good defense, and we don't run any offense," Huggins summed up succinctly. "I'm just trying to teach the guys how to play right now."
Huggins was also unhappy with West Virginia's effort at times. The Mountaineers didn't block off the boards well, despite the rebounding edge, and didn't get to loose balls or close out on defense in an acceptable manner.
"I can't watch the guys not play hard," said Huggins, whose booming displeasure could be heard echoing off the Coliseum roof more than once. "I can't watch the guys not play hard. I've always been like that. We've got good guys, but sometimes good people need a kick in the pants."
West Virginia did manage 22 offensive rebounds and a 51-34 margin in that department, albeit against a physically outmatched opponent. Kevin Jones had ten of those, with five on the offensive end, while Dan Jennings grabbed four on offense and nine overall.
The second half was an even more disjointed affair than the first. WVU led 49-27 at the break, and shot a solid 48.6% from the field. In the final 20 minutes, using a more conventional substitution pattern, Huggs' troops shot just 34%. It did clean up its ballhandling a bit, suffering just five turnovers against just ten in the opening period, but in all didn't display much crispness or consistency on the offensive end against UNCP's man-to-man defense. West Virginia didn't run any set plays against the Braves, instead sticking with its motion offense for the entire night.
"We get to run against a lot of different defenses in practice, so that was o.k.," Casey Mitchell said afterward.
West Virginia opens the regualr season on Friday, Nov. 13 with a 9:00 p.m. game agaisnt Oakland at the Coliseum. The game is part of a doubleheader with the women's team, which plays at 7:00 p.m.