If there was any doubt about how West Virginia would come out of the gate to start the 2015-16 season, that was quickly put to rest as the Mountaineers started the game on an 18-4 run and effectively put the game on ice in the first half in its win over Northern Kentucky at the WVU Coliseum.
Led by point guard Jevon Carter, West Virginia dominated the first half of play, taking a 30-point advantage over the Norse to the locker room. Carter poured in 15 points shooting 5-for-7 from the floor in the opening 20 minutes and spearheaded a balanced WVU offensive attack in the opening stanza.
The Mountaineers let their foot off the gas a little in the second half, but finished with a flurry to kick off the season with the dominating win.
Carter finished as the game’s leading scorer with 24 points, and also chipped in six assists, proving for at least one game that he is able to find the balance between scoring and creating that is required of a point guard.
One option that was open for Carter at all times tonight was junior forward Devin Williams. The big man finished with 18 points and tied a career high with 15 rebounds, notching the first of what figures to be many double-doubles this season.
For much of the night, Williams was matched up against a familiar foe in Northern Kentucky’s Jalen Billups. Both from the Cincinnati area, Williams said he had faced off against Billups a few times before coming to college, and was able to get the better of his fellow Buckeye-stater tonight.
“I’ve been playing about Billups for about three years when I was in Cincinnati. I’m kind of used to battling him. He’s a good player. I just prepared well and tried to follow the game plan,” Williams said.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing for Williams tonight, however, as he appeared to tweak an ankle in the first half. Head coach Bob Huggins swiftly removed him from the game, and after a short visit with the team doctor, Williams was deemed fit to return to action.
“It’s cool. I’ve just got to take care of my body. It kind of just made me frustrated…It’s part of the game. It’s nothing that I could control. I did what I was supposed to do, got my ankles taped, and from there it’s just go out and play hard. God willing, I stay healthy,” Williams said.
While it resulted in nothing more than a quick bench trip tonight, it was a chilling reminder of how fragile a team’s hopes can be. Losing Williams would no doubt be a crushing blow to this team, and keeping him healthy will be a must if WVU wants to make another NCAA Tournament run this season.
When West Virginia was in trouble on offense tonight, Williams was there to settle things down. On several occasions after disjointed possessions, WVU dumped the ball into the post to its big man and let him go to work. As a point guard, Jevon Carter said having a versatile forward like Williams on your team is a major weapon for the offense.
“It’s big. That’s our whole motto. We play inside-out. We try to get it in to them early, get the whole defense sinking in on Devin, and he’s a great passer, so when he feels bodies coming around him he can kick it and find the open man,” Carter said.
West Virginia will be in action next when it travels to Charleston, W.Va. to take on James Madison on Monday night.