West Virginia may have started slowly in its final pre-season tune-up, an exhibition game against Glenville State, but the Mountaineers found their groove on both offense and defense a few minutes into the game and never looked back, cruising to a blowout victory over the Pioneers.
Glenville State was committed to the 3-ball in the first half, and kept the game close in the first eight minutes as a result. The Pioneers were able to shut down WVU’s offense early, but once Esa Ahmad took the lid off the basket with a layup two and a half minutes into the game, the Mountaineers took off and never looked back.
WVU’s “Press Virginia” style of defense was back and looking just as good as ever early in the game. The Mountaineers forced 18 first half turnovers and converted those into 28 points to separate themselves from the Pioneers in the early going. In the end, West Virginia netted 38 points off 27 turnovers.
The script was much the same in the second half, as the Mountaineers poured it on, leaving little doubt in a 114-76 victory.
Forward Jonathan Holton, who was notorious for constantly being in foul trouble last season, showed what he is capable of when he is able to stay on the floor. The senior filled up the stat sheet, and was pivotal to the success of WVU’s press as he used his length to pressure the inbounding player into mistake after mistake.
“With us going big this year with Esa (Ahmad) and Devin (Williams), it’s going to be really long out there. We’ve just got to keep our hands up, no reaching in, and slide out with our feet,” Holton said.
“We watched the video of the rule changes. Coach Huggins tells us every day: You can’t reach. Like me last year, as soon as the game started I would probably get my first foul in the first minute, and it’s annoying because I have to go sit on the bench. I would sit there like ‘Come on, I want to play.’ Now I’m learning, less fouls, the more minutes I get.”
In his first game action in front of the Coliseum crowd, freshman Esa Ahmad played a big role on both offense and defense. He showed off his passing prowess, which separates him from a lot of other players his size, tallying six assists while scoring 11 points and grabbing four rebounds.
Ahmad said although he has undoubtedly worked on his passing, he has always possessed a natural gift when it comes to distributing the ball to teammates.
“It’s always been there ever since I started playing basketball in fifth grade. I’ve always been comfortable finding the open man. I love finding my teammates,” Ahmad said.
“It’s just a natural skill. God blessed me with the ability to pass, and I’m trying to use it to the best of my ability.”
As head coach Bob Huggins said they would, the Mountaineers rotated point guards tonight with Jevon Carter, Tarik Phillip and Daxter Miles Jr. taking the reigns at that spot. All were effective, as West Virginia was able to manufacture plenty of easy looks tonight.
Leading up to the season, Carter mentioned how he would have to work to find a balance between finding shots for his teammates while still getting opportunities for himself. He was successful with that tonight, scoring 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting while dishing out five assists.
“It’s still a transition for me. I still make little mistakes here and there that I shouldn’t be making, but that’s all part of the game. I’ve just got to keep focused, keep listening to my coaches and do what they say,” Carter said.
West Virginia will now have a week to prepare for its season opener against Northern Kentucky next Friday at the WVU Coliseum.