At one point, the Mountaineers trailed Monmouth by 14, but a strong defensive performance and just enough on the offensive side allowed West Virginia to outlast a very spirited Hawks squad. WVU finished the game on a 41-17 run to cement a shaky victory in the opening game of its 2014-15 campaign.
"If there’s a positive, it’s that we shot 16 percent in the first half and we stayed in the game. We would’ve never done that before," said WVU head coach Bob Huggins.
WVU was led by senior point guard Juwan Staten, who, despite being hobbled with many minor injuries throughout the preseason, finished with 20 points.
"I think for the most part we took them lightly ... Hopefully that woke us up, and we should be ready to get back on track now," Staten said.
Sophomore forward Devin Williams had his first double-double of the season despite a pitiful offensive performance. He missed countless layups and free throws but ended up with 15 points and 15 rebounds.
"Usually everything takes care of itself when you play hard, and that's what I was trying to do. I was trying not to get frustrated," Williams said. "We've got to slow down and understand that sometimes this happens, but you have to keep going, and that's what I did."
The Mountaineers were just 6-of-29 from 3-point range, and no player had more than one three in the game.
WVU outrebounded Monmouth by 16 and forced 24 turnovers, which led to 26 points.
WVU trailed by five after the first half, and the Mountaineers didn't start the second half any better. Monmouth scored nine of the first 11 points in the second half to go up by 12 and force Huggins to take a timeout with 17:44 to play.
"We showed toughness after that; we proved we were hungry," Williams said.
Monmouth would end up going on a 23-3 run between halves before a jumper from Staten made it 37-25. Back-and-forth scoring would eventually lead to really WVU’s first momentum of the game – a three from newcomer Jaysean Paige followed by a steal and layup by senior guard Gary Browne to make it 41-33. Later on, a tip in from redshirt freshman forward Elijah Macon would close the gap to just seven.
After the Hawks went up by double digit again, the Mountaineers were able to make it 46-41 following guard Chase Connor’s second bucket of the game – this time a three – and two free throws.
Browne would connect on a huge fast-break three to make it a one-possession game for the first time since late in the first half at 46-44.
The Mountaineers would take their first lead of the game since 2:53 in the first half when Staten hit two free throws to go ahead 49-48 with 4:47 left to play.
WVU was able to finish off the Hawks soon after.
"We wore them down some and when we got ahead, we could get them spread," Huggins said. "We just couldn’t make a shot. I didn’t tell you we’re the greatest shooting team in the world, but we’re not that bad."
WVU used a total of 11 players in the game. It was without newcomer Billy Dee Williams, who was ruled out due to a bone injury near his eye. Forward Brandon Watkins was also unavailable from illness.
Monmouth struggled in the second half with foul trouble. Three players fouled out prior to the under-four minute timeout.