The Dukes used solid free throw shooting and 46 bench points to stay in the game until the final eight minutes, when the Mountaineers’ press and some JMU foul trouble enabled West Virginia to turn an eight-point game into an 82-66 rout with three minutes left. The stretch was keyed by the interior domination of Williams, who racked up another double-double and was the salve for any consistency issues.
Carter anchored the backcourt, using an array of lay-ins, jumpers and two 3-pointers to net his 19 points on 6-of-11 shooting. The sophomore was exceptional, controlling the pace and tempo of play while getting the Mountaineers’ into their offense. And though the halfcourt operation wasn’t always smooth – WVU missed countless close shots and committed 13 turnovers, four late in the game – Carter showcased the savvy desired as a replacement for Juwan Staten.
“I thought we were playing to put on a show there for a while rather than playing to win games,” head coach Bob Huggins said. “In the second half we made ridiculous turnovers that we shouldn’t. We are screwing with the ball and ding things we shouldn’t be doing. One guy dominates the ball and we are not very good. We did a horrible job of scoring the ball close. We need to be better on offense than what we are.”
WVU shot 38 percent to JMU’s 32, but the Dukes (1-1) hit 22-of-24 free throws to stay close. JMU swingman Shakir Brown hit for a game-high 21 points, several via deep, off-balanced shots that provided a lift for a team that seemed on the verge of wilting multiple times. Brown hit a trio of threes and all eight free throws while adding seven rebounds and three assists in by far the finest line of the game. Three other players reached double-digits for James Madison, which entered off an impressive road win at Richmond, and proved themselves quite formidable against West Virginia’s superior athletic ability and depth.
“It was a good game,” Huggins said. “They are well-coached. If they shoot it like that all the time they are not going to lose many more. And some of them were hard shots.”
With the game at 66-58 with nine minutes left, WVU pieced together a 5-0 run over the next two minutes for an 11-point edge. But Ronald Curry, who missed much of the second half in foul trouble, canned a 3-pointer, and it appeared the Dukes were ready for one final push over the last five minutes. But the Mountaineers turned to Williams inside along with a pair of JMU turnovers to push the lead back to 82-66 with three minutes left. In all, West Virginia (2-0) scored 15 of the game’s next 20 points after the Curry three to seal the win.
The Mountaineers had 24 points in the paint in the second half, a key after missing nine of their first 11 shots to open the period. WVU also finished with 27 points off 19 forced turnovers and had a 42-31 edge in rebounding.
The teams ebbed and flowed throughout an entertaining first half. West Virginia led throughout, but was never able to extend the edge to double digits until the 6:20 mark because of James Madison’s solid outside shooting and the nine points and four rebounds by Brown over the first 10 minutes of play. Brown was everywhere, driving the lane, converting from the line (6-of-6 on FTs in the half) and anchoring the backcourt play.
Carter matched his counterpart, hitting for 14 first-half points as he was hot from the tip. WVU’s biggest lead was nine until Carter jumpstarted a run, hitting a three for a 37-27 edge before then nailing a lay-up off an Esa Ahmad steal as JMU began to wilt over the last six minutes. Carter’s points were part of a 9-2 spurt that pushed the advantage to a then-game high 43-29 with 4:32 left in the half. The Dukes responded, cutting the lead to just seven at 45-38 before the Mountaineers scored the final three points of the half for a 10-point game.
The second half opened with Curry and inside presence Paulius Satkus in immediate foul trouble, and West Virginia took advantage to build a 10-point lead four different times after James Madison had cut it to single digits. WVU could never completely secure the game until the final three minutes, however, because of multiple point blank misses. It now leads the all-time series 8-3.
“We threw it where we needed to throw it, we just didn’t put it in the rim,” Huggins said. “The best way to stop the bleeding is to throw it close, and we did, but we didn’t make it.”
Huggins noted that Ahmad has a shoulder bruise right now. He said Ahmad “can’t get a lot of shots up because then he can’t lift his arm.” That will be an aspect to eye as the nonconference slate progresses.