The West Virginia Mountaineers' dynamic bench duo was up to its old tricks again tonight as guards Jaysean Paige and Tarik Phillip combined to score 56 points in a crucial win over the visiting Iowa State Cyclones.
The Mountaineers halted a two-game skid and improved their record to 21-7 overall and 10-5 in the Big 12 conference, which leaves them a game and a half behind the first place Kansas Jayhawks.
Junior forward Devin Williams, who finished with 13 points and nine rebounds on the night, said Paige and Phillip’s increased production this season has come in part from a more dedicated work ethic.
“They’ve been in the gym just as much as I have. Tarik has just been getting better and better every game. He’s just more comfortable. You can tell. Jaysean, he’s in his comfort zone. He’s dangerous,” he said.
West Virginia also got sophomore guard Daxter Miles Jr. back tonight, who missed the last two games with a hamstring injury. With Miles back in the lineup, head coach Bob Huggins was able to crank up the pressure like he has in the past, and utilize his usual guard rotation.
With the regular season winding down, getting everyone healthy is imperative as the focus will soon shift to tournament basketball. With good health, Devin Williams said the sky is the limit for his team.
“Daxter Miles and Jevon Carter are going to be trailing along soon too. With depth, it’s possible. With depth, it’ll be there for us to take as far as making a run, and just being us,” he said.
Part of the reason West Virginia was able to get back to its winning ways was because it got back to doing what it has done best this season: Dominating the glass and winning the battle for second chance points.
For the game, WVU outrebounded Iowa State 18-8 on the offensive glass, 43-29 overall and outscored the Cyclones 22-11 in second chance points. As the game wore on, Williams said the Mountaineers’ physical play started to pay off.
“We wore them down. I can’t tell you a turning point, really, we just wore them down. At probably about the three minute mark you could tell they were wearing down and starting to foul; starting to stand up gasping for air on defense,” he said.
In preparation for this game, Huggins asked his players to look within themselves and really think about whether or not they were giving everything they could. Williams said the coach’s message hit home, and the results showed on the floor.
“He just wants guys that will go out there and compete. That’s the reason he recruited the guys he recruited; because he believes in us being tough, and being guys that can grind it out. He gave us a mouthful in the locker room that day coming into practice. He knew what time of the season it is. There are a lot of teams scrambling for wins. To be in the position that we’re in, we have to be grateful. We also have to stay humble and keep working, and not get complacent,” he said.
“The proof is in the pudding. If you look at the stats from Oklahoma and look at the stats from tonight, it’s the complete opposite.”