"We really want to win these first two games," WVU head coach John Beilein said.
Indeed, West Virginia is looking for that early season jumpstarter that could catapult it into the top 10 – and the nation's psyche again.
"Today, a couple people called our name," said Mike Gansey, who led WVU with 22 points and 14 rebounds for his fourth career double-double. "That was strange. It was kinda cool to have people knowing who we are."
Gansey nearly managed the feat in the first half, when he had 13 points and nine rebounds. ULM seemed unable to stop WVU early, as it built a 33-16 lead with eight minutes left in the first half. The Indians (0-1), though tested WVU, getting as close as 47-42 on a Darien Beynum putback with 17:40 remaining.
West Virginia then switched to a back to a man defense in which it surprisingly started instead of its trademark 1-3-1. That triggered a quick 9-2 run for a 56-44 lead with 14:58 remaining.
The Mountaineers hit straight baskets, including Gansey's three-pointer that put the Mountaineers ahead 54-42 and sealed the game. Louisiana Monroe never got closer than eight points afterward.
"These teams know who they are playing," Pittsnogle said, "so I think they play a more aggressively. Teams know we are ranked and they want to knock us off. That's something different."
West Virginia's largest lead, 88-68, came on Patrick Beilein's three-pointer with 58 seconds left. Beilein and Frank Young each added 13 points for WVU, which has won all four season openers under head coach John Beilein and the last nine overall. It has not lost a home opener in 16 years.
All Beilein's points came in the second half. Louisiana Monroe was led by Cecil Hood's career-high 26 points.
"Louisiana Monroe comes in here and their players hit the first few threes they take," John Beilein said. "We put a little dry spell on them and then Patrick comes in here and hits a few to give us a great lift."
First-year Louisiana Monroe head coach Orlando Early joking called the Guardians Classic's Morgantown Regional the West Virginia Invitational.
"I think we're all playing for that second place trophy," he said. "But I was pleasantly surprised with our team's effort today, coming in against the No. 15 team in the country and competing the way we did. We have a team that has not been used to winning, so when adversity gets in it could go either way."
West Virginia turned that adversity into a run-away win. Pittsnogle finished with 18 points and Joe Herber finished with a 10-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
The win sets up a Nov. 13 matchup between WVU point guard Darris Nichols and his brother, Shane, who plays for Wofford. Wofford beat Fairleigh Dickinson 73-62 in the other Morgantown Regional Semifinal.
That winner plays the winner of the No. 2 Texas-hosted Austin bracket in the Guardians Classic semifinals in Kansas City, Mo.
"He usually beat me when we played in the backyard," Darris Nichols said of his older brother. "I do remember beating him one time. We never played after that. He got really upset. Getting to play against him will be special. He shouldn't want me to win, and I don't want him to win.
"The last time we played was the last time I won. We haven't played because we fight a lot."
Like all other preseason tournaments, the Guardians Classic uses an international setup with a wider lane and longer three-point shooting distance, per NCAA rules. The three-point line is 20 feet, nine inches, one foot farther than the line used for regular season games. The lane expanded to 14-feet wide. The free throw lane remains the same distance.
This was the earliest game in school history for West Virginia, last ranked in the preseason in 1962. It was fifth.