Holton, Mountaineers Rip George Mason

Jonathan Holton scored 16 points to lead three players in double figures as West Virginia beat George Mason 91-65 to advance to the semifinals of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off on Thursday.

Holton, whose length on both ends was the difference in over the initial stages, scored five of WVU’s first seven points and already had a dozen by the break, when the Mountaineers led 52-27 after forcing 15 turnovers. Devin Williams added 16 points and 10 rebounds for his third double-double in as many games to start the season, while Juwan Staten tallied 13 points and four assists despite sitting for much of the second half as head coach Bob Huggins rested Staten and played Puerto Rico native Gary Browne.

It was Holton, however, who again controlled the game for a second straight outing. The forward – 18 points and 15 rebounds in a win over Lafayette – dominated a sizeable George Mason frontcourt with his quickness, length and athleticism. After Williams started the scoring with a jumper, Holton hit a lay-in, then stepped outside the arc for a three and a 7-3 lead. The plays were a microcosm of Holton’s skillset domination, as the junior continually hounded the Patriots, and finished with seven rebounds while hitting seven of 11 shots from the field.

It was an encouraging sign that the season-opening dud against Monmouth, when Holton admitted he pressed the action and wasn’t comfortable, mentally or physically, was an aberration. Holton missed eight of nine shots in that game, including all three from three-point range. Since, he has hit 16 of 28 from the field and scored 34 points. Williams was no slouch, his 10 boards helping West Virginia to a 43-33 advantage that felt like more. George Mason finished with a season-high 24 turnovers, which led to 31 WVU points as the Patriots (1-2) snapped their one-game winning smudge.

West Virginia (3-0) made 32 of 72 shots from the floor (44 percent), while George Mason hit 49 percent, which still wasn’t nearly enough to overcome the talent differential. The Mountaineers got 38 points from its bench as Browne and Elijah Macon each scored nine, with Jevon carter and Chase Connor adding seven and six, respectively. The two combined to make five of 11 threes in a game in which WVU took 26, making nine for a season-best 35 percent.

“Sometimes I think I look at the glass half empty,” Huggins said on the MSN by IMG broadcast, clearly looking for the negatives. “We go 18 of 26 from the foul line. It’s going to hurt us in close games. People say ‘I don’t understand. You’re up 20 and you’re on them.’ But I don’t do them any justice by allowing them to be what they shouldn’t be. The nice thing is we have guys who will let you coach them. We will continue to get better. It’s nice to be able to win by 20 and think you’ve got to get better.”

WVU took a 14-5 lead over the first six minutes, forcing George Mason into turnovers on five consecutive possessions. Holton had the hot hand early, quickly scoring his first five points while helping the Mountaineers hold the Patriots to just one shot in the first three minutes. The teams then jostled over the next three minutes, West Virginia holding a 19-13 lead before an 8-0 run gave the Mountaineers control at 27-13 with 9:23 to play as George Mason already showed fatigue under relentless pressure. The Pats had 10 turnovers through 11 minutes, one leading to a run out Holton dunk off an assist from Browne, who hit a three a possession later to end the push.

George Mason tried to slow WVU’s interior dominance via a 2-3 zone at the 7:00 mark, but the Mountaineers immediately scored on a putback bucket by Williams. That seemed to again spark the team on both ends, as WVU took off once again on yet another of its patented runs by forcing four turnovers to score 15 straight points for a 50-22 lead with 75 seconds left. The Mountaineers led 53-27 at the break, having recorded 12 assists on 20 field goals while shooting 50 percent from the floor as the result of transition dunks and lay-ins; 24 of West Virginia’s points came in the paint. WVU hit five of 13 threes in the opening 20 minutes, and made eight of 11 from the line.

“Let’s be honest,” Huggins said “That’s not scratching the surface of what Devin can do.”

The Mountaineers, now 4-0 against GMU all-time, picked up in the second half exactly where they left off, building the lead to as many as 31 at 65-34 with 14 minutes left. The game was collectively over at this point, with the competition resembling a lay-up line at times. WVU kept the pressure on until the five-minute mark, when it had a 79-55 lead. George Mason did hit nine of 11 field goals in one stretch while West Virginia turned the ball over six times in 65 seconds, but that got the Patriots no closer than 21 points at any time in the second half.

West Virginia will now play Boston College, who beat New Mexico 69-65, at 5 p.m. Friday. Dayton and defending national champion Connecticut, ranked 17th, will play on the other side of the bracket.

“It’s a great challenge because they shoot the ball well,” Huggins said. “I watched a game on the plane here. I try not to get too far ahead of myself. They are going to present problems because of their size.”

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