The Mountaineers, behind 26-21 at the break, finished an icy 26.1 percent from the floor after missing 30 of their first 36 shots. WVU was an even three for 18 from both inside and outside the arc in the first half and what’s worse, West Virginia’s guards, aside from Juwan Staten, were outquicked by Monmouth’s. Combine that with the abysmal inside play of a Mountaineer frontcourt which failed miserably in any attempts around the rim – WVU amassed 18 offensive rebounds and just eight second-chance points in the opening period and had just two points in the paint – and it was a woeful performance all around through the first 25-plus minutes of the game.
Even Devin Williams, he of the 15-rebound, 15-point double-double, started zero for 11 from the field, the majority from point blank range. His 10 first half rebounds, truth told, were mostly of his own making via the shooting issues as the sophomore tried to become the first player in school history to record a double-double without actually making a field goal. Jonathan Holton and Dax Miles missed a combined 10 of 12 shots, and Juwan Staten seemed to become unglued at times in frustration at both his teammates and his inability to move as well as he would like because of a lingering ankle issue. Even the uber-dependable Gary Browne missed all three of his tries from the floor in what amounted to a mess almost three quarters of the way through the game.
“Devin and Juwan both understand they have to be way better than that,” head coach Bob Huggins said. “They are two veteran starters who have to be better. Juwan isn’t in shape and is still struggling. He was tired at the end. Devin got tired at the end and I think frustrated.”
Monmouth, riding open looks and easy transition lay-ins, had built a game-high 14-point lead at 37-23 with 16:39 remaining. The crowd began becoming restless at the 17-minute mark, when WVU had to burn yet another timeout, and the video board controller even had to whip out the motivational, comeback clips – something that should have been shelved through this whole month. But, perhaps via the timeout, or perhaps a bit of self-reflection and motivation, West Virginia got the slap in the face it needed.
To that point, the Mountaineers had made just one shot in the second half, a lay-up by Jaysean Paige. But, after a series of timeouts, WVU seemed to sense its own merit, and began putting together consistency at both ends. Staten hit a jumper. The formerly easy transition buckets began to be defended. West Virginia, once hesitant to even take a shot, was now pressuring the rim and then kicking for open looks. Williams, once forlorn under his own rim, began taking chances away at the other end via a pair of charge calls and a key swat of a lay-up attempt. When Paige nailed a three to get West Virginia within 41-31 with 13 minutes still to play, both benches sensed it was game on.
WVU remained down 10 with less than eight minutes left, but it had stemmed the bleeding and began to slowly build momentum. Chase Conner hit a three to pull West Virginia within seven, and the shot showcased the biggest of second half changes by the Mountaineers. Connor actually missed his first try, but the rebound, fed back to him by Williams, was immediately hoisted up again only to strike the bottom of the net.
That play, with its implications in points and the attitude and approach change it showcased, was arguably the biggest of the game. West Virginia would finish on a 28-9 run to end the game, grabbing the lead at 49-48 on a Staten free throw inside five minutes. From there, the Mountaineers would outscore Monmouth 15-6 to seal a double digit victory. Staten and Williams scored all of the 15 points, with Williams finally hitting his first field goal of the game with just 2:33 left. It wasn’t pretty, and in fact no where resembled even adequate. But the ledger reflects a win, and with so many new players and both Brandon Watkins (illness) and BillyDee Williams (eye injury) out as late scratches, West Virginia did what it must in avoiding a bad loss and being able to ready itself for Lafayette, which won 77-50 at Robert Morris tonight.
“We shot 16 percent in the first half and still won,” Huggins said. “That would usually never happen. We’re going to get better. We better get better by Sunday because they’re pretty good. … It was just one off those nights. When we found out BillyDee couldn’t play, it messed up our rotation. That’s not an excuse, it’s just a fact. When you can’t make a shot and you can’t make a free throw, it’s going to be a long night.”