West Virginia Plays Host To One More Home Contest Prior to NIT Tip-Off In Brooklyn

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Bob Huggins says West Virginia has played one half of basketball over its first two games, an issue which must be quickly reconciled as the NIT Tip-Off Tournament nears.

The problem was the Mountaineers themselves over the first 80 minutes of play. WVU quickly jumped to a lead despite a lackluster performance in the opener against Mount St. Mary's, leading by 19 at the break and extending the advantage to a game-high 29 in the second half. But it shot just 17-of-29 from the line in a game that featured 47 fouls - more than one a minute - and whatever gear it showed in the first period was downshifted in the second half. The same was largely true in Sunday's victory over Mississippi Valley State, though West Virginia pushed its energy and effort to an acceptable level in piecing together a 17-0 run to lead 24-7 midway through the first half and essentially seal the game.

The stats showed an even more dominant win than in the opener, and at least by the eye test that was true for the first half. WVU completely dissected the Delta Devils and led by 34 at the break, and there was far more crisp play in terms of passing, running the floor, defensive effort, rebounding, full court pressure and other facets. And then human nature kicked in and the Mountaineers went into another get-through-it lull that was frustrating but completely understandable.

"I understand it’s hard to play when you’re up by 40 at halftime or whatever it was, but all we talked about at halftime was get better,” Huggins said. “And we talked where they were entering the ball, how they were entering the ball, how we can do a better job, can we work on this in the second half? But we didn’t. We gave up 10 lay-ups in the second half. We didn't run down balls from behind. We didn't slow the dribbler down so that we could run people down. You can't do that. In four halves we have played one so far. We just haven't been able to play two yet."

That seems, at least at this time, equal parts early season rust combined with the lackluster competition level and a dose of this team trying to acclimate without its leading scorer and rebounder from last year in Jaysean Paige and Devin Williams. The latter has especially affected how the offense is going to be run, as no current Mountaineer has as polished an interior game as did Williams. Nate Adrian has been steady, showcasing his ability to battle on the inside mixed with the return to a steady jumper and his unique new positioning atop the press. But he'll seldom be an effective back-to-the-bucket scorer on the low block, despite the fact that the Mountaineers are running much of what they do through him.

Elijah Macon has started a bit slow, and played just 11 minutes against Mississippi Valley State. His activity level on the floor has been decent, but lacked the typical intensity of a 6-9, 240-pounder who likes to run the floor. Brandon Watkins is showing signs of returning to form after missing major portions of his career with injuries, and his confidence in his strength and knee seems solid. The question will be if he can handle players similar in size against major conference competition. And Huggins called out the play of Esa Ahmad thus far, perhaps desiring to create an early season spark that could eventually start fueling a more competitive fire. The rest, including Euro-style shooter Maciej Bender - who remains a bit hesitant - and redshirt freshman Lamont West, are largely unproven.

"Lackadaisical," West said of the effort. "We were up and we were too relaxed on the court. We let them shoot too many lay-ups. We gotta pay for it. I don't know what he'll make us do, but we gotta pay for it. (I do think) were more aware of what we had to so (in the second game). Coach was getting on us about how we were playing so we tried to fix what was wrong. We needed more effort on the court and we made better passes. The first half we did good, the second half we got lackadaisical."

There brightest of spots was the play of Sagaba Konate, a 6-8, 250-pound talent who seems to have an understanding of angles and how to position himself for rebounding on the opposite side from the shot. The Mali native physically dominated MVSU on the interior and finished with eight points, five rebounds and three blocks. Once the true freshman figures out what Huggins wants from him, he could be a legitimate force for the Mountaineers defensively and on the glass and a key in the tougher nonconference contests to come, starting with a Thanksgiving game against Illinois.

"You gotta play defense first," Konate said, already buying into one of Huggins' core philosophies. "I always liked to block shots and make the play every time. I have good timing for it. (But) I have to keep playing when I am tired and have to get into shape. It's very different. (Huggins is) going to yell if you don't do things right. If you do right, he won't. If you mess up so many times he will yell at you. I've been learning. The seniors have been saying 'Rebound the ball' so I'm learning."


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