West Virginia Ups Exertion Level, Improves To 2-0 With Win Over Mississippi Valley State

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia made significant jumps from its opening performance in the 107-66 win over Mississippi Valley State on Monday.

Best characterized as sloppy and sluggish in the initial game versus Mount St. Mary's, the Mountaineers showed crisp play on both ends and utilized execution and effort in a second consecutive blowout victory. West Virginia forced MVSU's 26 turnovers into 34 points, and smothered the Delta Devils with stifling quickness and dogged determination. It was a needed display after WVU essentially waltzed through the first win, causing head coach Bob Huggins to question the focus and desire of his squad.

That changed in this game, when West Virginia jumped to a 24-7 lead in the first six minutes and managed to sustain the push throughout an opening period which saw 11 players score. WVU was able to clog lanes and cut off passing options in the press, and its sheer size and length were far too much for a program which entered ranked 317 in the RPI. Perhaps even better, the Mountaineers moved efficiently and effectively in the motion and set up scores via a series of cuts while also avoiding the stagnation that had plagued it on offense in the Gold-Blue Debut and the first game. 

Tarik PhillipJevon Carter and James Bolden all ran the offense smoothly, and initiated the sets without wasting motion, while Nathan Adrian was particularly active across all areas. The senior forward recorded his first career double double with 15 points and 14 rebounds, while also totaling six assists. It was a statistical line seen just once in the last 18 seasons of Mountaineer basketball, when Devin Ebanks had 22 points 17 rebounds and seven assists against Seton Hall in 2009. Adrian obviously feels comfortable both at the top of the press, where he replaced the departed Jonathan Holton, and in handling the ball and playing own low on offense.

His game is as diverse as any West Virginia player, and it is showing as Adrian does a bit of everything in most games. His shooting stroke has returned after have a cyst removed, as Adrian has hit nine of his 17 field goals while displaying added confidence in his three. The Morgantown native is releasing the ball without hesitation - an issue which plagued him in the past and was directly related to confidence - while continuing to scrap for rebounds on both ends. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Adrian's game has been his ability to avoid foul trouble (another past issue) while also protecting the ball as evidenced by his zero turnovers.

Arguably the most impressive performances was that of Sagaba Konate. The 6-8, 250-pound freshman ran the floor well and physically dominated the smaller foe. Recording three blocks and playing impressive defense throughout, Konate showcased an understanding of angles and cutting off lanes to the bucket, and his length and sheer strength were imposing. The forward finished with eight points and five rebounds in 19 minutes, and made his presence felt on both ends with a raw physicality unmatched by any other Mountaineer. Once the newcomer gains a better understanding of the system and exactly what Huggins wants on the floor, he will be an incredibly dangerous talent.

Brandon Watkins also showed some signs of finally rounding into the player hoped for years earlier with a productive eight points and seven rebounds in just 13 minutes. Elijah Macon was still somewhat lackadaisical on the floor, and was never truly as active as expected. Macon totaled six points and a rebound in 11 minutes, and was unselfish on the floor, but his nature was again a bit more laid back than liked. Esa Ahmad was a bit of an enigma. It seemed the forward played hard, but didn't shoot well (4-for-11) and seemed unable to get into the flow of what West Virginia was doing in the motion sets. Huggins more than hinted in his postgame comments that he expects more, and that he was a bit disappointed by Ahmad's play thus far.

Overall, West Virginia shot almost 50 percent, and had a 13-rebound advantage to go with 29 assists against just 10 turnovers. The margin was perhaps a bit more than expected despite some lost focus in the second half, and the ordeal amounted to a solid outing after a very flat beginning. It's the type of performance that can be built upon, especially in the upcoming game against New Hampshire on Sunday. It is the final of three straight home games to open the season, and segues into a Thanksgiving Day contest against Illinois in Brooklyn as part of the NIT Season Tip-Off.


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