It was the second consecutive year with an in-season tournament win, dating to the Mountaineers’ capturing the Puerto Rico Tip-off last season. And much like that tournament, WVU used its now-trademark pressing style to force San Diego State to match the pace and tempo. The Aztecs never got comfortable, turning the ball over 21 times and failing to hit shots in the halfcourt offense.
The two paired together were fatal against West Virginia’s smothering style, and the Mountaineers continually exploited the advantage. Following a 15-0 first half run that blew the game open, WVU scored 12 of the first 16 second-half points to stretch an eight-point halftime lead into a 46-30 advantage that signaled the beginning of the end.
San Diego State (4-3) never recovered, getting as close as a dozen points before wilting down the stretch under the unrelenting pressure. The Aztecs never truly adjusted to the pressure, and it showcased the difficulty in preparing for West Virginia (6-0) with just a day’s notice – an aspect that will make the team dangerous in any tournament setting.
Jonathan Holton and Jevon Carter each scored 12 points, and Jaysean Paige added 10, including eight in the 15-0 first half run. Devin Williams added 10 points and nine rebounds as a slow start kept him from recording his sixth straight double-double to match Rod Thorn’s 1961 mark. Williams had no points, two rebounds and four turnovers in the first half.
Jeremy Hemsley scored 14 points for SDSU, which reached the final by beating No. 12 California on Thanksgiving. Cal lost to Richmond in the third-place game earlier on Friday. No other Aztec scored more than nine as the team missed all nine of its three-pointers. San Diego State did hit 24 of a whopping 32 free throws. West Virginia went 14-of-21 from the line and had a 42-28 edge in rebounds while scoring 30 points off turnovers.
SD State had just 13 field goals, and didn’t even hit their 10th until there were five minutes left in the game. It could never challenge after Williams hit three straight lay-ups to end the key second half run for the 46-30 lead. It was part of eight straight WVU points scored by Williams, and it primed the push that put the Mountaineers ahead by a game-high 21 points at 58-37 with 8:14 to play, and it was all elementary from there.
West Virginia led 34-26 at the break after its 15-0 run in the first half blew the game open. The Mountaineers smothered San Diego State defensively, getting nine turnovers over the first 11 minutes and forcing the Aztecs to match their tempo and pace. They never got comfortable, and WVU used its quickness and pressing style to jump to a 19-6 lead after trailing by two. The Mountaineers got a quick eight points from Paige during the 15-0 push, including a pair of threes. Adrian also buried a three from the corner and added a lay-up off a steal under his own bucket, and Carter added a transition jumper off another steal as West Virginia took control.
The lead remained between seven and 13 for the remainder of the half, and the Mountaineers went to the locker room with Paige’s eight points still the top scorer. SDSU missed all six of its three-pointers in the half, but hit 16 of 20 free throws.
It was West Virginia’s first championship in Vegas after losing in the finals in the 2008 Invitational and the 2012 Classic. It is the third in-season title for Bob Huggins at West Virginia, counting the Puerto Rico Tip-off and the 76 Classic in Anaheim during the Final Four season in 2010.