The Rebuilding Begins...

Joe Alexander put on a somewhat surprising display of shooting, combining it with superior athleticism to score 17 points, nine from three-point range, as West Virginia beat Division II Fairmont State 81-54 in an exhibition Sunday in the first competitive showcase of the Mountaineers since consecutive trips to the NCAA Sweet 16.

With lone returning starter Frank Young adding 15 points and three other players in double figures, West Virginia controlled the paint and the outside like they rarely have against anyone. The Mountaineers, who shot 51.5 percent from the field in the first half and 46.8 overall, managed a 40-26 edge in rebounds and had a whopping 22-10 edge in assists-to-turnovers.

FSU had 14 turnovers against just 11 assists and never seemed comfortable against West Virginia - which lost five of its top six players - despite the Mountaineers staying in a man zone for the first 30 minutes of the game, not utilizing its trademark 1-3-1 zone until just 11 minutes remained.

And despite the fact that WVU was playing down a level – it will again when it plays host to Slippery Rock on Nov. 14 – it managed to effectively operate its motion-oriented offense enough to gain open shots, behind the three-point line and within the paint. It made 13 of 34 three-pointers (Alexander, Young and Nichols all hit three each), and the major difference in the game, other than rebounding, was Fairmont State's dismal seven-for-23 performance from three-point range.

The Mountaineers, as expected by the final, had numerous runs, among them a 13-0 breakaway that opened up a 19-4 lead in the first half. West Virginia then finished the half by scoring 12 of the final 17 points for a 43-26 lead at the break. It chased that with a second half run of 13-2 to lead by 20 within the first three minutes. That eventually ballooned to 58-33 on Alexander's dunk with 16:49 remaining, though FSU did then piece together its best mini-performance of the game, hitting nine straight points.

The spurt only brought it within 58-41, however, and it was then that the Mountaineers went into the 1-3-1 zone for the first time after their next make, Nichols' three-pointer with 10:43 left. FSU got an open look from behind the arc on the ensuing possession, but that missed and led to five consecutive points from Da'Sean Butler, who drilled a three and followed that with a lay-in that made it 64-41 with 10 minutes left. Fairmont State never got within 20 again.

The overall lack of competition didn't keep either team from playing the majority of its players. Fairmont State, led by Jamal Womble's 13 points, played 14 athletes, among them Chris Carey, the son of WVU women's basketball coach Mike Carey. In addition to Alexander and Young, West Virginia started Rob Summers at center. The guards were junior Darris Nichols and Alex Ruoff, a solid-shooting sophomore. Only Summers had less than nine points, and Nichols played especially impressively, adding nine assists to his nine points and five rebounds.

Fairmont State switched largely between a 3-2 zone and a man-to-man early, but nothing proved effective. Nichols, a backup the last two seasons, hit a 3-pointer before recording assists to Alex Ruoff and Young on two more 3-pointers in the Mountaineers' first four possessions for an early 9-4 lead that eventually ballooned to 19-4. With WVU leading 6-2 with 16:53 left in the first half, Fairmont State's Kevin Pearson, at 6-7 then the tallest Falcon on the floor and the second-tallest on the roster overall, hit a running lay-up for FSU's final score for the next 4:40. The Mountaineers, via only one three-pointer (Young), ran off the next 13 points to lead 19-4 with 13:08 remaining.

After Young's three-pointer started the push – and after Beilien had subbed for the starters to bring in Smalligan, Smith and Butler – Alexander added four of his 17 total points during the run (the most by any player in the balanced attack), and Summers, Ruoff and Smith also scored.

FSU broke the streak with a bucket by forward Dan Bruner, then played West Virginia evenly for the next several trips until Alexander hit two consecutive shots from the floor, both three-pointers, to push West Virginia's edge to 31-16 before the third official timeout.

The Falcons got to within 10, at 31-21, on a hoop by Womble and a three by Ronnie Means, who had five rebounds and six assists. WVU exploded again from that point, scoring 12 of the final 17 points to lead 43-26 at the half. All 12 points were scored by Young (7) and Alexander (5). With 1:23 left in the first half, Beilein subbed Butler for Smalligan, giving West Virginia a small lineup. It went ‘quick' for the final 83 seconds. The move worked, as WVU drove the lane and kicked back to Young or Alexander. The latter played the five-role well, getting three boards during the stretch and hitting the five points.

In all, WVU made 17 of 33 shots (51.5 percent) and went eight of 18 from three-point range (44.4 percent) in the first half. Those numbers cooled to 12 of 29 (41.4 percent) and five of 16 (31.3 percent) in the second half, respectively. Alexander and Young had 15 and 10 points, respectively, by then, and the Mountaineers actually had a rebounding edge of 18-12, as well as a 14-3 assist-to-turnover ratio. Fairmont State, which went just 1-13 against WVU when the teams used to meet yearly in the 19020s, had eight of its 14 turnovers by then.

West Virginia, picked 12th in the 16-team Big East, opens the regular season Friday, Nov. 19 against Mount St. Mary's (Md.). It is the first of three consecutive home games and starts a 12-game non-conference slate that has WVU playing just one true road game.

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