The Mountaineers were able to survive the back-and-forth contest thanks in large part to the performance of their go-to star, senior point guard Juwan Staten.
Staten exploded for what was arguably his best game of the season against the Wolfpack, finishing with 24 points, six assists and three rebounds. That stat line included eight points and two assists in the game’s final nine minutes – a run that started right as NC State was threatening to regain the lead and the momentum heading down the stretch.
“We have a lot of first-year players, junior college guys and freshmen, so with me being a senior and the role that I have on this team as a captain, I just had to step up,” Staten said. “I had to take the shots when they were there and just try to make plays.”
As a whole, it was a good second half for West Virginia’s halfcourt offense as the Mountaineers consistently found a way to convert and make shots to match their relentless pressure on the defensive end of the floor to help run away from the Wolfpack. WVU made 14 of 24 attempts from the field in the game’s final 20 minutes (58.3 percent) and shot 53.4 percent for the game.
It was its best shooting performance since it shot 53.8 percent against Iowa State early in February last season.
“Let’s be honest, (good) halfcourt offense means you made some shots,” said WVU head coach Bob Huggins, who began the 14th coach in Division I college basketball to win 750 career games Saturday night. “If you watch any basketball, there are guys who are really good coaches that had teams that went eight or nine minutes and didn’t score. I have, and our guys have a lot of confidence.”
The story of the first half for West Virginia was its defense. The Mountaineers used their full-court pressure to cause North Carolina State to commit 16 first-half turnovers while attempting just 17 shots from the field.
WVU was able to turn those turnovers into 15 points on the other end of the floor in that half and went into the break leading by nine.
“Their pressure bothered us,” said NC State head coach Mark Gottfried. “We played like a young team, and they looked like sharks in the water.
“I thought we got in a hurry, their defense sped us up and we didn’t play with a lot of poise. That’s all to their credit. They didn’t lose sight with their pressure … It got us flustered and we didn’t handle it very well.”
There were a total of 52 fouls called in the game, with 31 going against the Mountaineers, and the two teams combined to shoot 56 free throws. The number of whistles throughout the contest slowed down the pace a bit, but the Mountaineers tried to not let it bother them while they were out on the court.
“We just try to put it behind us,” Staten said. “Most of the fouls we get are fouls we can prevent. When we start getting those fouls, we just try to regroup. We stay on each other, let each other know to keep our hands off and just play defense.”
Staten was one of three Mountaineers in double figures. Sophomore forward Devin Williams finished with 16 points and eight rebounds and junior guard Jaysean Paige scored 11 points and had three steals before fouling out of the game.
WVU faces a quick turnaround now, returning to Morgantown Monday to face Wofford - another team that recently beat North Carolina State.