The Mountaineers have struggled at times rebounding the ball and shooting from the free throw line – which was a major part of the reason they lost to Wisconsin last week in Cancun – but have been able to have success and stay in the games they've lost because they would be able to get stellar play from Eron Harris and Juwan Staten.
While the test wasn't that great Monday night, West Virginia had to find ways to be efficient and make plays while its two best players were working through a rough night. And it passed with flying colors, jumping out to a 27-point lead at the half before cruising on to a 49-point victory against Loyola (Md.).
The issues of free-throw shooting and rebounding looked to have taken a big jump – even if the Mountaineers were going up against a Greyhound team that it should have been able to overpower on the glass. But it was still a step forward to see them outrebound a team like that after struggling to do so against teams like Duquesne earlier in the season.
They were good at the line, making their first 13 attempts before a Gary Browne miss broke the streak and ending the game 86 percent. The Mountaineers were shooting 63 percent from the charity stripe coming into this one, including a 42-percent performance in which they missed eight foul shots in a seven-point loss to No. 10 Wisconsin.
While it's definitely an encouraging sign to see those improvements, it wasn't the most impressive thing in WVU's win Monday.
Through the first half, while Staten and Harris shot a combined 3-for-16 from the field, the Mountaineer offense didn't slow down. West Virginia was still able to score 47 points despite struggling to get major contributions from the two guys who had been consistently the ones this team could lean on all season.
This is a team that has been in need of a third scorer to emerge for times like tonight. They don't necessarily have to have one guy that does it (even though I think, once he gets totally healthy, Terry Henderson can be that guy), but if this Mountaineer team can just have someone else step up and provide that option who can pick up the slack or even just complement the two guards.
In the first half Monday night, it was Kevin Noreen. The junior big man had 11 points in the first half, and finished with 13 and eight rebounds, but a bulk of the damage was done while Staten and Harris were trying to get back on track.
Noreen stepping up, combined with Nathan Adrian and Remi Dibo hitting from beyond the arc pretty well, made for a good night for this West Virginia team when its best scorers weren't getting the job done. And then, once Harris and Staten got on track in the second half, the Mountaineers ran away with it.
Even though they aren't going to have many more games like this, getting that consistent third scorer going early and often is going to be vital if the Mountaineers want to come away from their next few games with a win.
From here, WVU gets into possibly the toughest stretch of its non-conference slate, traveling to Missouri before it gets Gonzaga, Marshall and Purdue. If West Virginia can keep playing the way it has, it should be able to come away with a couple of wins in this stretch. And they're wins that this group will need if it wants to meet its goal of returning back to the NCAA tournament.
If it can continue to progress the way it has, that might not be a difficult one for this group to reach. But a lot of questions are about to be answered in the next few weeks.