West Virginia's Balanced Attack And Smothering Pressure Leads To 100-41 Win Over New Hampshire

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Esa Ahmad scored 14 points to lead six players in double figures as West Virginia beat New Hampshire 100-41 on Sunday.

The Mountaineers forced 34 turnovers, tying for the second-most in school history behind the 36 set against VMI two seasons ago. It was part of an offensive and defensive onslaught that had the Wildcats reeling from the very beginning as WVU built a 23-6 lead over the initial 10 minutes, then continued to expand throughout the contest in a segue into the NIT Tip-Off Semifinals on Thanksgiving Day.

"We were flying around and our effort was there," said Ahmad who tied his career high in points and neared a double-double with eight rebounds. "We were coming up with steals and deflections. It gives us energy. We can see they are shaky with the ball and we feed off that."

That's an understatement. Three or more New Hampshire starters committed at least five turnovers, and the 'Cats were held for more almost eight minutes without a field goal in the second half as the lead ballooned to as large as 100-37 inside a minute left. In all, UNH was victimized by 47 points off the turnovers, and 32-10 discrepancy in points in the paint.

West Virginia, meanwhile, was the definition of balance as Lamont West came off the bench to score 13, while starters Jevon Carter and Nathan Adrian added 12 points apiece. It was a particularly impressive showing from Carter, who again manned the point and garnered five steals via relentless pressure. Adrian finished with seven boards to go with four assists and no turnovers, while Teyvon Myers and Tarik Phillip scored 11 and 10 points, respectively.

"I'm just playing hard," Carter said. "We knew we had things to work on. We were trying to go out there and capitalize and follow the scouting report every game. Press Virginia is our label. Why not play like it?"

That's something West Virginia failed to do over the first two games in regards to itself. Head coach Bob Huggins noted repeatedly how the Mountaineers failed to showcase both effort and execution for a full 40 minutes in its 2-0 start, and how the unit as a whole had managed just one complete half out of the four played entering this game. After advantages in nearly every statistical category, and some of the intangible ones as well, Huggins had no such complaints this time.

"We played hard. The guys that came off the bench played hard. Our rotations were better. Ball pressure was better," Huggins said. "That team is really good in half court, we just never let them get into half court, which was the plan coming in. We try not to let people run what they want to run. We were successful at it today."

The rout started early. West Virginia used an 11-0 run over nearly four minutes to take a 12-4 lead with 13:57 to play in first half. Carter's first three of the game triggered the push, and Phillip and West also hit field goals in the surge. The Mountaineers continued to pour on the pressure, forcing 11 turnovers in the initial 10-plus minutes to help forge the decisive 23-6 lead. 

The game was essentially over at that point, as WVU built a 46-20 advantage by the break. Carter and Phillip led a balanced scoring attack with nine each at the half, while seven other players scored. The Wildcats were forced into 14 turnovers over the first 20 minutes, and the Mountaineers took advantage by scoring 20 points off the miscues on 11 assists. New Hampshire (2-2) then went without  a field goal for nearly eight minutes in the second half as West Virginia increased its lead from 51-27 at the 16:35 mark to 68-32 with 8:44 left. 

It was elementary from there, with the seven reserves each seeing at least four minutes. Every Mountaineer who got into the game scored, and the team rang up 24 assists on 37 made field goals while shooting 54.4 percent overall and 46.9 percent from three-point range.

Neither Brandon Watkins nor Elijah Macon played - Sagaba Konate was inserted into Macon's spot in the starting line-up - presumably for missing team activities. Asked about their lack of playing time, Huggins said both players would be ready for the next game "as long as they can read the clock this time."

Certainly ready for a bigger challenge, West Virginia (3-0) will face Illinois in the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off at the Barclay's Center in Brooklyn - the site of the NCAA Tournament loss to Stephen F. Austin. It then faces either Temple or Florida State.

"It's behind us," Ahmad said of the tournament game. "We are going in there trying to get a win and play as hard as we can. I fee like we are (ready for a challenge). We are going to get that with Illinois."

Note: Guard Daxter Miles continues to recover from an illness. Huggins said the junior was "gaining weight back and he has (practiced) a little bit. Hopefully we have him back Thursday. I just worry about his conditioning. But he gives us another experienced guy and a guy who could make shots."

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