It had the makings of a big one for the Mountaineers, but it wasn't to be – though they still got the win. With only two players breaking over the 6'0" mark, and the home "crowd" of Towson numbering around 25 without the band about 25 minutes from game time (it did eventually round up to around 200), it looked as if Mike Carey might have another chance to clear the bench. But, make no mistake, with Alisha Bogan out to an injury and the guard corps that much thinner with the departure of Marsha Kinder, this wasn't so much of a cake walk for West Virginia.
It looked like a fast start for West Virginia, with Sherell Sowho opening the game with a three. But. the Achilles heel of the Mountaineers all season has been slow starts combined with turnovers. Well, a little bit of the former caused by a lot of the latter was a big concern for Mike Carey's squad this evening in the suburbs of Baltimore. While controlling most of the first half, only allowing the Tigers to close within two on 36% shooting, the Mountaineers allowed Towson, led by center Kyva Jones and forward Kelli Talbot to stay in the game, matching the Tigers horrendous number of turnovers 14-14.
As goes Kate Bulger, so go the Mountaineers, though it didn't look like it early on in the half. West Virginia started out the game with something they usually close a half with – a full court pressure defense. The pressure forced several early turnovers and held the Tigers to 20% shooting in the first four minutes of the game, while the Mountaineers mounted a 10-4 lead on the back of Sowho and 100% shooting from the field.
Bulger only managed one field goal in seven tries in the first half, a three-pointer with 8:47 left to make the score 24-13. It looked like Sowho's 10-point rebound from JMU, aided by eight from Brandi Batch and six from Eartha White would more than make up for Bulger, but the mistakes and turnovers added up, helped along by the absence of Alisha Bogan. Don't get me wrong – Jess Fisher made a great contribution filling in, but it wasn't enough to stop an 8-0 Towson run, keyed by cold shooting, fouls (Zsophia Horvath alone picked up three in 12 minutes), rebounding (again out-rebounded 17-15 against a smaller team) and the turnovers. The score at the half was 30-27 West Virginia.
Give Towson credit. Down 30-19, this 1-8 squad could have easily given in to the bigger team from the Big East, but, they didn't give up and scrapped their way back into it several times.
The second half opened much the same for the Mountaineers – Yolanda Paige, not Sherell Sowho, buried a three on the first possession. Fortunately, the other first half trends did not continue, save for the fouls. Switching to a man-to-man defense to open the second half and moving in and out of zone, the WVU post quickly got into foul trouble, with Carson, White and Horvath grabbing four fouls before the 9:00 mark.
This time, however, things were different. West Virginia found an unlikely hero in Kristen Kilgore, who stepped up to fill the post position nicely with a career-high eight points on perfect shooting, 2-2 from the field and 4-4 from the line. Kate Bulger also appeared to have at least slightly thawed her cold snap, and the Tigers never got any closer than seven at the 9:00 mark as the Mountaineers cruised to victory.
Kilgore, I think, made the difference. With little to show in the first nine games of the season, Kristen really stepped up tonight, probably never expecting to be thrown in the shoes of two starters and a key reserve so quickly against a lower-tier team. I thought that, when White became the third to pick up a fourth foul, things were on their way downhill. But, Kilgore showed that she deserved to be out there this evening, and I hope we'll get to see more of her in the future.
Bulger nailed a three to cap a 9-0 West Virginia run with 15:00 left, propelling her to 13 points for the game. Still not her average, but she looked better in the second half of this game than she has in the past few. Perhaps she was thinking about her Christmas shopping these past few games? Whatever it was, she woke up, and that made a huge difference in the functioning of the team. They're still too dependent on the outside shot, but I think with Bulger, Kilgore, Sowho, White, Batch and Paige, things became a little more balanced.
Any way you look at it, no egg nog for the Mountaineers tonight. True, this game was not as pretty as it could have been, but a win is still a win – especially a win that erases the aura of last year's five-win season.
West Virginia was led by Sherell Sowho, who shook off an awful 1-10 performance at James Madison to shoot 5-8 from the field for 14 points in 38 minutes. She was followed by Kate Bulger and Brandi Batch, who got 13 points each. Batch, to her credit, continues to impress. I don't recall ever seeing her with five assists - excellent!
As mentioned, Kristen Kilgore provided the spark with eight points. Yolanda Paige had seven points and five rebounds. Eartha White had six points and six rebounds, and two blocks. Zsophia Horvath and Mary Grace Carson had rough games, scoring two and one, respectively.
Towson was paced by Kelli Talbot, who scored 13 points on 5-13 shooting. She was followed by Mia Chapman with 11, Jackie Richardson with 10, Kyva Jones with nine, Shonte Simpson with five, and Cherron Johnson with two.
West Virginia wound up shooting 47% for the game, but was out-rebounded by Towson 34-33. Towson shot 34% for the game. The Mountaineers still were plagued by 24 turnovers, but Towson had 27.
I wasn't originally going to comment on this, but it kept stirring pleasantly through my mind returning home south on I-95 to the Captial Beltway and finally the Potomac wetlands of Southern Maryland. Towson was an interesting experience. It's a shame they couldn't draw more people into the 5,000-seat Towson Center. It's certainly a nice place to see a game, I think.
The most interesting person I encountered was the P.A. announcer - when someone would line up to shoot free throws, he would emulate "Dr. Evil": 'Here's Sherell Sowho at the line, shewting tyoooo....." Better yet, he became Stuart Scott when Towson hit a three: "Boo-YA!" Additionally, I've never seen a pep band, until tonight, not be from Knoxville and play "Rocky Top." I have to say it was intimidating - I wouldn't want to see the Lady Vols emerge in Towson uniforms!
West Virginia, now 6-4, breaks for the holidays before returning to action at home on December 28 against the Colonials of Robert Morris. Towson, falling to 1-9, also breaks before returning to action on December 28 against Albany.