The Mountaineers, attempting a bit of varied pressure and playing a sluggish first half, led by nine with 16 minutes to play. That, in itself, might seem impressive if not for an overall viewing of the initial 24 minutes, when WVU didn’t guard correctly and allowed a Cougars’ program known to play well against superior talent to remain within striking distance via the three-point shot. Then, suddenly, the rugged defense, the man pressure, the in-your-face style, along with the continual cutting and offensive movement to force defensive chase, the accumulation of all of it struck. And within just 1/8 of the game, within just the five minutes from that point until there were a touch less than 11 minutes left, CofC went from behind by 14 to completely knocked out of contention at 60-33, a 27-point bulge.
The mere points run itself, a 22-2 push, is worthy of praise. But to review it on film makes it even more impressive. It started simply enough, Elijah Macon hitting a lay-up to extend the lead to double digits. At that point already, however, Charleston was already experiencing what was a four-minute scoring drought that would eventually bulge to a whopping eight-plus minutes while WVU was surging. But back to the offensive end: After Macon’s score, WVU – as it had all game – put 6-7 Jonathan Holton and his extreme wingspan on the inbounds.
That immediately forced a turnover, Holton deflecting the inbounds to Dax Miles, who slapped it back to Holton for a lay-in and foul that resulted in the traditional three-point play. No major issue yet. West Virginia’s run was just 7-0 at that point, but the dominoes had begun to tumble. Charleston effectively inbounded the ball on the ensuing possession, then couldn’t get across half court in the requisite 10 seconds as Holton and Miles combined to slow movement upcourt and force passes away from CofC’s own hoop.Turnover.
“You see how long his arms are,” WVU guard Jaysean Paige said. “So it’s kinda hard when you have to inbound the ball and you can’t move and Jon is standing there for five seconds. It can get a little annoying.”
It was about to get a lot annoying. West Virginia fed Holton on the next series, with the junior rebounding his own miss and getting fouled. Holton hit the two free throws, and the run went to 9-0. This time, the Cougars actually managed a shot, missing an attempt from the low block with Macon securing the rebound. West Virginia missed a three, and Macon was called for a push before Charleston had another chance at an inbounds. And, once again, Holton deflected a pass, then grabbed the ball falling into the baseline and fed Macon in the backcourt. At this point the collective pressure was more than evident with Charleston, and its head coach Earl Grant.
“It was a combination,” Grant said. “Some of it was West Virginia stepping up. They play really hard and it was hard for us, because they wore us down. I didn’t have enough confidence to sub and keep our guys fresh. Every time we turned it over, we had to chase them. There was a two-minute spell where we chased them three-or-four times in a row. From that point, we could never get the game back under control. … When you turn it over and (West Virginia is) running to the other end, it’s hard to get your matchup. There were too many possessions where we were too busy chasing them, the shot would go up and we couldn’t get the offensive rebound. They just out-toughed us.”
WVU would put together one possession in which it gained two offensive rebounds, then showcased its best overall sharing and spacing of the season in scoring – once again via Holton on the block – after 11 passes and one CofC foul. The Cougars, once again unable to rebound over Holton, called a timeout, then caught a break when Bob Huggins pulled Holton for a rest with the run at 11-0 and counting and the lead at 49-31 with 13 minutes left. Nathan Adrian would then drill a three to end the 14-0 push with WVU ahead by 21. The Mountaineers added on after the lone CofC bucket with a mini 8-0 spurt for the 60-33 edge with 10:43 left. Five-plus minutes, seven turnovers, a 20-2 total run.
“We have a lot of guys who can shoot the ball,” Paige said. “We have a lot of guys who can rebound the ball. It’s crazy rebounding out there. They hunt for the ball every time. In practice, it’s usually (Devin Williams and Holton) fighting each other for the ball. Sometimes I go down there and try. No chance with those two. They coaches harp on it every day, defense and rebounding. And guys stepping in and hitting shots compliments that.”
West Virginia made eight of 17 shots during the run, which reads like the solid 47 percent it is. But the Mountaineers actually missed four lay-ups and three jumpers, along with four three-pointers. Half the lay-ups were contested, but all three jumpers, two from Jevon Carter, were wide open, eight to 10 footers. But it didn’t much matter then, not with the rebounding, pressing and defensive prowess.
“We have a team full of guys where anyone on a night can come out and put up 15, put up 20 and one of our best guys could have a quiet night,” said Paige, who scored 15 and jumpstarted WVU early with a pair of threes. “That’s what this team is about, guys stepping in and playing roles. It helps us out a lot when we have a lot of guys who could do that.”
Juwan Staten’s game – 10 points, three assists, three rebounds – was mainly as distributor role, and was another quiet on the stat sheet, while speaking volumes when watching what transpired. Against LSU, a larger, much more physical team resembling UConn more than VMI or CofC, expect the senior point guard to possess much more, and get other players into their respective positions and comfort zones.
“The higher the level of competition, the more you have to have the ball,” said Huggins, whose 7-0 squad moved to 16th in the lasted Associated Press poll. “When we get into league play, he’s going to have to have the ball a lot more. He doesn’t have to shoot eight of nine to be a great player. He does so many other things. As soon as we took him out they pressed us. They didn’t think about doing that when he was in the game. The pace is so much faster when he’s in the game. We have to get into people’s bench, and to do that you have to pick up the pace of the game.
“I know their personnel,” Huggins added of LSU. “Their front line is as athletic as we will play. They aren’t as big as Texas, but they’re just as athletic. Everything we throw up around the rim they will throw out of bounds.”