The fierce looking bulldog wearing a purple crown stretched from three point arc to three point arc, extending out its enormous clawed paw in an attempt to do damage to the invading Mountaineer hoops squad. On this night, however, it was West Virginia who prevailed as the big dog at the JMU Convocation Center, and the home-standing Dukes who were left standing in the yard without a spot on the porch.

James Madison took the court to the sounds of the Rocky theme, but John Beilein's Mountaineer squad delivered a number of early blows to quiet the excited crowd and take some of the fight out of the Dukes. Drew Schifino came out of the WVU corner ready to go, and recorded two quick steals and West Virginia's first six points on the evening before Kevin Pittsnogle connected on a long three point try to bring back memories of some exciting moments from last season, when the two combined to lead the Mountaineers to big wins over the likes of Tennessee, Florida, and Villanova, just to name a few. The Blue and Gold played strong defense on the other end of the floor as well, and by the time the first media timeout had rolled around, the Mountain State visitors held an impressive 23-8 advantage.

The run was sparked by not only Schifino and Pittsnogle's scoring, but also Patrick Beilein, who quieted the crowd with some sharp shooting of his own. The sophomore was taunted with chants of "daddy's boy" from his first steps on the floor, but the Richmond native hit on two straight threes to prove he belonged on the court. The baskets energized the son of the Mountaineer head coach, and gave him a great deal of confidence as he flashed a big smile and a subtle wink toward the group of JMU students congregated under the basket.

It appeared as though West Virginia had thoughts of blowing the Dukes out of their home arena, but it was not to be. Sloppy play, missed shots, and sporadic defense kept the blue clad West Virginia squad from blowing it wide open. Beilein's squad did hold as much as a 20-point advantage at one point in the opening period and led by 18 at the half, but it could have been much worse for the home team. West Virginia turned the ball over six times, was only three for seven from the charity stripe, and was out-rebounded by a 23-19 difference. An 18-point halftime lead in the season opener, on the road, in a hostile environment is something to be proud of, but it was obvious that JMU would make a run at some point.

That run came in the second half as WVU began to miss some of the shots that it had put through the cylinder early on, and JMU found some success penetrating toward the basket. Only D'or Fischer's shot blocking ability saved the Blue and Gold. The Dukes cut the lead down to just nine with a little over five minutes remaining in the contest, but Fischer refused to walk off the floor a loser in his first Division I collegiate game. The Philadelphia native, who had been heralded as the best shot blocker West Virginia has seen in years, wasted no time living up to the hype, and blocked a school record eight shots in his first game wearing the gold and blue. The swats near the basket allowed the Mountaineers to hold onto the lead, and an eventual 74-57 win to open the 2003-04 campaign.

Junior forward Drew Schifino lead the WVU scoring attack with 27 points and four steals, but also turned the ball over six times. The Pittsburgh native showed streaks of his usual brilliance, but seemed to be pressing at times and trying to do too much. The rest of the Mountaineer scoring was quite balanced with Fischer pouring in 14 to go with his clinic on defense, while Patrick Beilein and freshman point guard Tyler Relph added 10 points each. Pittsnogle struggled at times, having to make the adjustment back and forth from center to forward, and managed just seven points and five rebounds.

Obviously, the wrinkles need to be ironed out of the balled up shirt that is this Mountaineer roundball team, but this unit clearly showed a great deal of potential. Fischer will be a difference maker underneath and Relph has both the confidence and skill to make an immediate impact. Together with the starting five from last year's overachieving 14-15 finish, Beilein's second WVU squad has the potential to take yet another step on the winding road back to basketball prominence.

The road only gets tougher, but a win in Harrisonburg is a great start. No, it is not Syracuse, Connecticut, or Pitt, but it is an arena where the Blue and Gold had never won. West Virginia teams were 0-3 at the 21-year-old arena, including a 91-75 drubbing just two season's ago. The Mountaineers certainly did not play their best basketball, but a win is a win and they were able to start off the year on the right foot. Maybe, just maybe, if Beilein can find the right combination of steam and pressure, that balled up shirt can be repaired to the point where it looks good enough to wear to the big dance.

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