Holton was just two points from a double-double by the end of the first half, having already tallied 10 rebounds and four field goals. That aspect was quickly tidied in the second half when Holton emphatically dunked home his 10th point with about 15 minutes to play. Both the points and the emotion were key in jumpstarting a 17-2 run that put the game well out of reach at 61-35 with 12:30 left; the Leopards never got closer than 18 points again, the interior controlled by Holton and frontcourt mate Devin Williams, who registered his second double-double in as many games with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is what a Bob Huggins team is supposed to look like. The combined 33 points and 26 rebounds accounted for 40 percent of West Virginia’s scoring and 52 percent of its board work in the 83-56 thrashing. It’s telling, in fact, that Holton is the first player to amass such totals since Kevin Jones recorded a 22-point, 16-rebound line against DePaul on Feb. 28, 2012. Jones was, for all intents, the last true putback threat for the Mountaineers; As good as Williams is – and the 15 points and 11 rebounds marked his second consecutive double-double – he struggles at times finishing near the rim and lacks the explosive playmaking abilities of Holton, whose 6-7, 220-pound frame is freakishly long.
“They’ve both always been good rebounders, wherever they’ve been,” head coach Bob Huggins said. “We’ve spent a bunch of time on technique, where the ball’s going to come off and to their credit they are listening and doing what we asked them to. A lot of it was their will to rebound. I think those two guys have great will to rebound the ball, which is really important.”
Especially with West Virginia’s shooting. Just one game after struggling in nearly every offensive facet against Monmouth, WVU was able to transition its dominant defense to score 25 points off turnovers against a team known for solid possession and shot selection. Holton and Macon controlled the interior and absolutely shut down any legit low post threat. The vast majority of Lafayette’s 26 points in the paint came on breaks, or back cuts before West Virginia adjusted at the half. The Mountaineers pounded the boards to a 50-31 advantage, with no other WVU player tallying more than seven, that coming from Nathan Adrian after Huggins pushed him inside some to make up for the loss of Brandon Watkins (illness), BillyDee Williams (injury) and Elijah Macon (family health issue).
And with Williams and Macon possibly on the shelf for the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, Holton and Williams become even more invaluable, and will likely play a greater number of minutes than Huggins desires. As the coach noted, the guards will earn time via who is hot that game, there not being much of a difference between them defensively. Holton and Williams will get time because West Virginia is simply a different team when they’re on the floor together.
“We are playing into what we know we can do and not going outside our role,” Williams said. “We understand how important it is to do what we’re good at. I think we did. We shared the ball, and we had great energy on defense. I think that led to most of our offense. … Me and Jon held it down, but it’s going to get tougher as time goes on. Elijah is a guy who can really get in there and bang with us and who is very capable of double digit rebounds and double digit points. We were patient on offense, way more patient than we were the first game. I was trying to slow down and get everybody involved.”
Especially Holton, who admitted he pressed too much in the opener, his emotions getting the better of him. Against Lafayette, Holton appeared calmer, and more in control physically and psychologically.
“First game, definitely nervous,” he said. “First game being back in a year from basketball. I was very disappointed that first game. I knew I was better than that and I got back in the gym and doing what I do best: Bringing energy. I was hyper, and my mind was racing. This game I was trying to slow down and let it come to me. I had the right mindset that I was going to go hard and not take a play off. I said I wasn’t even going to look for my shot. I was just going to rebound and hustle and play hard.”
Somehow, he still found it, hitting a whopping nine of 17 from the field, three of his misses coming from three-point range. He also had two assists, a block, a steal and who knows how many changed shots.
“He slowed down,” Huggins said of Holton. “He was so fired up on Friday. He kind of got more under control. He’s capable of being a whole lot better than that. He’s a much more capable shooter than what he’s shown. He passes better than what we’ve seen to this point. Devin shoots better than what he’s shown, too.”
After the struggles of both Holton and Williams in the first game – “I almost made history,” Williams said of nearly having a double-double without a field goal – it was refreshing to see West Virginia manage a respectable 38.3 percent from the field, with 36 points in the paint and 18 second chance points.
“We want to get a lot more shots than what our opponent does,” Huggins said. “Today we did it in the way we’re supposed to. They had 20 turnovers, we had six. We out rebounded them by 19. That’s what you’re supposed to do. We did a better job slowing down today. It takes a while to understand that playing frantic full court and stealing the ball still needs a lot of energy. We didn’t really force it like we did Friday. We slowed down.”