One Reason For Win

Let's be frank: West Virginia had no business being in Thursday's game against Missouri State. All the statistics said so, except for one that has been the hallmark of Bob Huggins' legendary coaching career: rebounding.

The box score reads like a horror novel if you're a Mountaineer fan. The Bears shot 53.8 percent from the field to only 42.6 percent for WVU. Truck Bryant tied a career-worst performance in terms of care for the ball with six turnovers. Deniz Kilicli didn't play late due to injury.

West Virginia committed more turnovers than the Bears. It shot only 53.3 percent from the free throw line.

But when overtime ended, somehow, it was the Mountaineers celebrating a 72-70 overtime win and mobbing Huggins, their head coach, to celebrate his 700th career victory.

That "somehow" was the statistic that perhaps matters most to Huggins. WVU was dominant on the glass all night long, finishing with a plus-13 margin in total rebounds (40-27) and a staggering 18-3 advantage in offensive boards.

That correlated directly to a 16-2 edge in second chance points. Despite the turnovers, WVU attempted nine more shots from the field and six more free throws than Missouri State.

Those disparities were the only reasons the Mountaineers were in any position to rally from what was a 10-point deficit with 8:47 to play.

How appropriate that Huggins entered the rarified air of Division I coaches with 700 or more career wins on a night in which his team proved just how correct every edict he has centered his style around is.

The head coach remarked to the Mountaineer Sports Network broadcast crew after the game just how thankful he was that many people had journeyed to Las Vegas to see him chase that milestone win. He lamented that the win had not been "prettier" for them.

But really, would it have made sense for Huggins to win his 700th game in "pretty" fashion? That has never been the coach's M.O. His teams outfight opponents, scrap and claw.

And yes, they rebound. Even when they don't play good half-court defense -- as this team just doesn't do consistently enough, even if Huggins was pleased with the effort in the final few minutes of regulation and overtime -- they rebound.

The road ahead for Huggins and his young team this season will be difficult. Without Deniz Kilicli (who Huggins said is unlikely to play) for Friday's game against No. 6 Baylor, victory may be close to impossible.

But Huggins has shown 700 times over the course of several decades that he knows how to coach a team to victory. And though the Mountaineers are exceptionally young, if they take care of the ball and rebound, they will be competitive even in the always-difficult Big East Conference.


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