In a game expected to be close, the Mountaineers romped to a 101-68 win due largely to a 55-point first half during which the team as a whole ran offense as well as anytime in recent memory. WVU tallied 13 assists on 21 field goals in the opening period, hitting 56.8 percent from the floor and 40 percent from three-point range. It also converted eight GSU turnovers into 17 points, scoring almost every time the Eagles lost the ball. It his threes, midrange jumpers, and driving lay-ins. It shared the ball. It got to the line and converted. The spacing and timeliness of passing was evident. Players moved both with and without the ball. There was little stagnation, and less hesitation, even in the transition game.
"We run because we're going to get the ball," head coach Bob Huggins said. "We play so much better together. They're so much more unselfish. I think the reason we're running better is just because guys are running. Last year we had an invisible fence on the three-point line. We never would go in and do that. I'd make them do that in practice but in the game, they'd stop at that three point line. They couldn't make them there, either. I don't mind (sophomore guards) Eron (Harris) and Terry (Henderson) stopping there because I know they can make them."
Point guard Juwan Staten, who is finally developing as head coach Bob Huggins envisioned more than 15 months ago, showcased explosion, solid decision making and the ability to understand when to attack and when to set-up the offense and work motion. The junior scored 20 points, including his first three-pointer as a Mountaineer – and his first at the collegiate level in a game in 1,009 days while becoming the first Mountaineer player in school history to record consecutive games with at least 20 points and nine assists. Frosh center Nathan Adrian blocked a career-high three first-half shots and continued his patient play and solid shot selection. Powerful forward Devin Williams worked the blocks while also pulling up for several converted eight- to 10-footers in finishing with 16 points.
Guard Gary Browne, whose nagging mid-thigh bruise issue remained evident, entered as among the first substitutions and promptly drilled a pair of threes to extend the lead. Shooting guard Terry Henderson shot well and attacked the rim in transition effectively, throwing down a resounding dunk to put on exclamation on the opening half as part of his 16-point total. Reserve forward Brandon Watkins, following Williams' lead, canned a pair of short jumpers after a slow start. And Kevin Noreen continued to hustle, finding himself the beneficiary of multiple loose ball tie-ups that resulted in a Mountaineer possession and aided the 55-26 cushion at the break.
"The defense improved the first half," Huggins said. "We didn't guard as hard the second half, obviously. The first half we did a pretty good job. We closed in lanes better. We made it harder for them to find people. We still did things wrong. They had the same guy open in the corner four times in a row. That should never happen. That may happen a second time but not a third time. I always tell them they don't rebound well enough. Too many balls bounce off of our hands. There are some inexcusable things. You can't let that happen. We have four in the lane and they have two. Those are things, I think, that we have to keep getting better at."
Offensively, though, not much changed in the latter 20 minutes. Staten, who had a steal and dunk in the first five minutes of the latter half, kept feeding the ball to both the post and to cutting players in transition. If anything, West Virginia's ability to hit easy buckets increased as the lead did the same. With WVU ahead 74-38 inside the 12-minute mark, Staten hit consecutive driving lay-ins to put WVU ahead by a then-game-high 40. The outside onslaught also remained steady, with Harris, Henderson and Remi Dibo canning threes in the second half – with Dibo's last of a pair of threes getting the Mountaineers to the 99-point mark . West Virginia pushed over 100 points for the first time in six years – and just the third time under Huggins – on Noreen's lay-in with 20 seconds left.
WVU (3-1) finished 40 of 71 shooting from the field for 56.3 percent as the Mountaineers eclipsed 56 percent for the third time in four games this season after reaching that mark just three times in the previous four seasons combined. The Mountaineers also had 24 assists against just 10 turnovers and a 46-36 edge on the boards. West Virginia finished with 28 points on 17 forced turnovers. It was, frankly, as a solid a start to the four-game Cancun Challenge as one could have hoped.
"They were extremely well prepared, right from the opening tip," GSU head coach Mark Byington said of WVU. "They had a great energy on defense by attacking and being aggressive. West Virginia also made a lot of shots. I felt like we did not respond to the initial punch. They came out and caught us. Give West Virginia credit; they came out and were the aggressors. They took it to us in the first half and put us on our heels. They were able to basically steam roll us."
West Virginia now faces Presbyterian on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. before traveling to Playa del Carmen, Mexico to face Old Dominion and either Saint Louis or No. 12 Wisconsin, 5-0 after a win over Bowling Green on Thursday.