WVU forced 13 of their 31 turnovers by midway through the opening period – including three in 22 seconds near the halfway point – to lead 19-5 on the way to another blowout that set-up Tuesday’s game against No. 10 Virginia in New York.
With the expected result secured early, West Virginia coasted behind a career-high 26 points from Devin Williams, the junior’s third career-high set this season. He finished one rebound off a double-double for the second consecutive game after starting the season with five in a row. Jonathan Holton added a season-best 17 points on 5-of-7 shooting and also tallied nine rebounds, while Daxter Miles scored 18.
The game was over nearly from the tip. The taller, more talented Mountaineers jumped to a 10-point lead over the first six minutes, and never let the margin get back to single digits again after it reached 15-5. The edge ballooned to as many as 19 in the initial period, and was 41-24 at the break.
West Virginia had already forced 19 turnovers by then, but managed just 17 points off the miscues because of largely lackadaisical offensive play and multiple misses around the rim in a subpar effort. The Owls committed three turnovers in just 22 seconds at one point.
“We were pretty good in practice,” head coach Bob Huggins said. “I expected us to come in and play well and bother them with our pressure.”
Perhaps the first half highlight was the return of Brandon Watkins, who checked in at the 13:12 mark to make his first appearance after recovering from offseason ACL surgery on his left knee. Watkins promptly grabbed a defensive rebound in his first seconds and started the break that led to a lay-in by Elijah Macon for the 15-5 lead with 13 minutes left. Watkins also had a block before leaving during the under-12 media timeout. In all, he played 17 minutes, totaling six points and six rebounds while showing solid lateral movement and push off the right knee.
“I knew I was going to play yesterday,” Watkins said. “I felt fine. Really no problems other than some twinges around the knee. I felt pretty good. I’m not jumping as high as I was, but I think eventually I will jump higher. I just gotta play, get back to game shape.”
The final margin was the biggest, at 33 points. The last six came on three quick Miles buckets in the final 98 seconds. Miles hit 7-of-14 shots, and had four steals and an assist against just one turnover. That picked up the scoring slack from Jevon Carter, whose lone field goal came with just 1:58 left. Carter was excellent otherwise, finishing with a line of four points and three rebounds with five assists and two steals against no turnovers.
The win pushed West Virginia to its second 7-0 start in as many seasons, and set-up a clash with 10th-ranked Virginia (6-1), which has won five in a row after a loss to George Washington in its second game. Included is a 64-58 victory at Ohio State. The game, a part of the Jimmy V Classic, will be televised nationally by ESPN in its 7 p.m. primetime slot.
“It’s a tempo kinda deal, who can get whom playing how they want to,” Huggins said of the match-up against Virginia. “They try to fortify the paint and make you shoot jump shots. They double the post and try to keep you from scoring close. They want you to shoot jumpshots. It’s not a matter of not being able to get shots. If you don’t make them it becomes frustrating.”
Though likely not as much as this game was for Kennesaw State. The Owls (2-8), coached by former Rhode Island and Boston College mentor Al Skinner, lost for the fourth time in five games. KSU was paced by a career-best 23 points from Kendrick Ray until he fouled out with 5:05 left. The junior guard, a transfer from Quinnipiac, scored 20 of Kennesaw State’s first 34 points as Skinner’s team tried to keep within striking distance. KSU has already played Alabama, LSU, Arizona State and West Virginia, and will also face Louisville and Indiana, among others.
The Owls shot 44 percent from the floor, but failed to hit a three until the 3:15 mark of the second half. West Virginia’s last three opponents have missed 28 of their 31 three-pointers. Three KSU players fouled out.
WVU is 8-8 all-time against Virginia, though the schools have not played since 1985, a 56-55 UVA win in the Coliseum in the first round of the NIT. Like the Mountaineers, Virginia is unbeaten on neutral courts this season, going 3-0 in the Charleston Classic to take the in-season title. WVU won the Las Vegas Invitational with two consecutive wins.