Ugly win over Monmouth 'still a win' for WVU

The West Virginia basketball team was in the middle of practice Thursday when senior point guard Juwan Staten heard something he didn't like.

"Let's get ready for Puerto Rico," one player said - referring to the Mountaineers' upcoming trip to the Puerto Rico Tip-Off where it will face George Mason with potential matchups against New Mexico and Connecticut.

The only problem with that is that standing in the way of those games were the two West Virginia had to start the season, including Friday's 64-54 come-from-behind victory against Monmouth and Sunday's showdown against Lafayette.

"That right there said that, as a team, we kind of looked past these first two games," Staten said. "Hopefully this woke us up and we can get back on track now."

For much of the game, West Virginia looked stagnant offensively. The Mountaineers failed to get any type of momentum in their halfcourt sets and even was failing to take advantage of all the opportunities they were getting defensively to turn turnovers into points.

And it looked like it was going to haunt them as Monmouth continued to pull away as every minute passed.

The Hawks led by 14 at one point in the second half before things finally began to turn around for West Virginia and the Mountaineers were finally able to do just what head coach Bob Huggins said they could do in a lot of games by wearing Monmouth down. So sure, it wasn't a pretty win by any means, but it counts just as much as any other win. At the end of the day, that's what matters for this WVU team.

"It's still a win. We just have to realize we can't take anything for granted and understand that people are going to come out and play us as hard as they can because of who we are," said sophomore Devin Williams. "We need to come out and jump out on people. That's what we struggled with last year, we let people jump out on us and we couldn't recover because we didn't have the defense.

"Even though it wasn't the way we thought it should have gone, with how much we were down and how well we played defense and kept fighting, I think that says a lot."

West Virginia debuted a handful of newcomers Friday night, as seven of the 11 players Huggins used in the game were making their first appearances of their Mountaineer careers against Monmouth. With two freshmen, two junior college transfers and two players who weren't eligible to play a year ago on the court for the first time, WVU's leaders had to step up and calm some of the newer guys down when things weren't going well before it was too late for the Mountaineers to take the game back and not allow the Hawks to spoil WVU's home opener.

"We just tried to calm them down and tell them it's going to be fine," said senior guard Gary Browne. "They just have to keep playing the game like they've been playing it their whole lives. Keep playing hard, be aggressive and it will work out."

What West Virginia saw from itself Friday night wasn't what it expected to see in the opener. It was a team that seemed nervous at times, a bit over-eager to do things. And it didn't work.

The Mountaineers shot just 16.7 percent from the field and continued to struggle inside, missing almost every shot it took in the paint, in the first half. But when things started to get even worse in the second half, WVU kept fighting. It used its defense to work back into the game and, at the end of the day, did enough to leave with a 10-point win.

Was it pretty? Absolutely not.

But the Mountaineers will take it.

"It was good and bad at the same time," Browne said. "It's an ugly win against a team that isn't that great. But we still came back.

"In past years, we would not have done that. We would have lost. So it's good to see this, but we know we have a lot of work to do and we have to be better than that if we want to keep winning games."

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