It was just one steady, smothering pull away by West Virginia, as the Mountaineers pressed and pressured Western Carolina into 34 turnovers in a 90-37 victory at the Charleston Civic Center that wasn't as close as the score indicated. WVU scored the game's first seven points, and led 23-3 after the first eight-plus minutes in securing the blowout before the midpoint mark of the first half.
Four Mountaineers reached double digits, led by Esa Ahmad's 14 points, along with eight rebounds. Jevon Carter added 13 points and Elijah Macon chipped in 11, while Tarik Phillip had five assists.
"In all honesty, I thought they were better than they were," said WVU head coach Bob Huggins, who picked his 798th career win. "Larry is a really good coach. You saw what they did against the press, and conceptually is was really good. But you have to have the people to do it, and they don't have the people."
Western Carolina was plagued by turnovers coming in, and could manage little on the offensive end as it was overwhelmed by No. 15 West Virginia (7-1), fresh off its upset win at then-No. 6 Virginia. The Mountaineers managed 37 points off the 34 forced turnovers, while WCU (3-6) never scored on 13 WVU turnovers, and found itself on the short end of two severe droughts that put the game away early.
Led by a quick early three-pointer from Daxter Miles, West Virginia led 7-0 when the Catamounts hit a three. Western Carolina then went scoreless for more than five minutes as the Mountaineers opened the 20-point cushion at 23-3 with 11:44 left in the first half. Phillip triggered the push with a pair of threes, while Brandon Watkins added a dunk and a lay-in. WVU's defense would spur another scoreless streak, which erased the final 7:39 of the opening half off the clock as the Mountaineers closed on a 16-0 run.
That ballooned the halftime lead to 46-12, and the surge continued into the second half as the Catamounts were held without a point over the first three-plus minutes, extending the total span over both halves to 10:39. During that stretch, the Mountaineers outscored Western Carolina 21-0 for a 51-14 lead with 17 minutes remaining.
"They are really unselfish," Huggins said on the MSN by IMG postgame radio show. "A lot of times in a game like that, people will try to get theirs. I didn't think there was any of that going on. You look at the shots and Esa took the most with nine. And they're over there on the bench cheering on their teammates."
The Mountaineers forced 19 turnovers by the break, scoring 20 points off the miscues, and limited the Catamounts to just three made field goals over the opening period. In all, WCU managed to hit just 13 total shots from the floor on 50 tries (26 percent), while missing 14-of-18 from three-point range. West Virginia shot 49.2 percent from the field and had 24 assists on 30 made baskets.
Huggins began to empty the bench with more than 10 minutes to go, and every player saw at least five minutes. WVU's bench managed 45 points to Western Carolina's 22 while the Mountaineers recorded 21 steals. Still, as always, Huggins saw room for improvement.
"We had seven consecutive possessions without a basket," he said. "We can't do that. I told those guys at the half, let's forget about Western Carolina. Let's us get better. We got better in the second half. We gotta keep on getting better."
West Virginia has five nonconference games remaining - four before the start of Big 12 play. The Mountaineers play host to VMI on Saturday at 2 p.m.