Grizzled Defense Leads To Win

ORLANDO – Frank Young's career-high 21 points and a hot start to both halves lifted West Virginia over Montana 73-56 in the first round of the Old Spice Classic here in the Milk House at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex on Thursday.

The Mountaineers (4-0) scored 14 of the game's first 16 points to open a quick 14-2 lead, then tallied eight of the first 10 points in the second half to take a 42-29 edge with 16:25 remaining. Young - whose 21 points are a tournament high for any player - was instrumental in both spurts, hitting consecutive three-pointers to end the first half push, then adding another of a career-high five threes to finish the latter run. The senior would add eight points over the next five minutes.

Young's 11 second-half points helped WVU secure the game as it outscored Montana 22-5 in the first nine-plus minutes of the final period to lead 56-32 with 10:43. The Grizzles (1-3) never got any closer than 19 points afterward. They committed a season-high 18 turnovers, leading to 30 West Virginia points.

"We focused on defense first, and that led to our offense," point guard Darris Nichols said. "I knew if I got Frank the ball, he would hit it. I was actually mad that I missed him a couple times, because once he starts hitting, he continues to do it."

The defensive pressure started early. West Virginia caused three turnovers in as many minutes in the opening half as it confused Montana with its trademark 1-3-1 zone off made baskets. The hesitancy translated onto the defensive end for the Griz, which allowed three consecutive baskets to Joe Alexander to start the game, one off a steal and the resulting dunk. WVU continued to extend its zone, and it took until the 15-minute mark before UM responded. By then, Alexander had scored six of his career-high 18 points and Young had drained the back-to-back three-pointers for the 14-2 edge.

Montana scored then managed six straight points – its best spurt of the game – before Alex Ruoff and Alexander buried consecutive three-pointers to give the Mountaineers a 20-9 lead with 10:44 left in the first half. It was a common theme that ran throughout the contest as the Mountaineers hit 10 of 23 from behind the arc to Montana's four of 18 shooting, by far their worst of the season. A similar lack of perimeter defense had hurt the Griz – which had to make three straight three-pointers to end the game just to reach four – against Wyoming, which made 11 of 17 threes in its win earlier this season. Montana still has not beaten a Division I team.

"We started the second half similarly to the first," first-year Montana head coach Wayne Tinkle said. "We don't make shots; they do. And we are on our heels the rest of the night."

West Virginia's largest lead of the game came on sixth man Da'Sean Butler's reverse lay-up with 4:52 left that made it 67-42. The lone time the teams played evenly was when WVU chose to take centers Rob Summers and Jamie Smalligan off the floor for two minutes with 8:55 left, trying a smaller attack. The teams both tallied 14 points in the final nine minutes for a 34-27 West Virginia lead at the break. The major difference, besides the early confusion, was that Montana missed eight of nine three-point shots, while WVU hit six of 13 in the opening half. Toward the end of the half, UM did begin to penetrate past Alexander and Devan Bawinkel in 1-3-1 when it inserted hurt point guard Bryan Ellis, who had a bruised ankle and shin. Ellis, a usual starter who had not practiced for two weeks, had been replaced by Matt Martin at the point to begin the game. The change gave Montana the ability to drive past and dump the ball inside off cuts from the elbow for lay-ups. Ellis played the rest of the half and the majority of the second half until the outcome was no longer in doubt.

"That probably led to some of their problems early," said WVU head coach John Beilein, who started 4-0 for the second time in six years. "I am never going to convince anyone of this, but that game was closer than it seems. It's a matter of a three-pointer here or there."

UM did score the most points of any WVU foe this season, and managed a 29-23 edge in rebounding. But the Mountaineers posted advantages in every other statistical category, including a solid 10 steals. No single player had more than two in among the most balanced effort all season. Nichols added 11 points for West Virginia on 3-of-3 shooting from behind the arc and dished out five assists to tie with Alex Ruoff for the game-high. Montana was led by Andrew Strait's 14 points. Jordan Hasquet added 12 and Matt Dloughy scored 10.

It was West Virginia's second game ever against a Big Sky foe. The last one was an 82-80 win over Weber State in 1974. The last time the Mountaineers held three straight foes under 43 points was in 1948 against VMI, Penn State and Navy. WVU has now forced 91 turnovers in four games. Montana's foes have made 54 of 87 three-pointers this year. Young shot eight of 16 overall in addition to his five of 10 effort from behind the arc.

"I felt really comfortable out there, just getting used to the ball and the floor," Young said. "It was great to do that in front of all my family, being from Tallahassee. It's a lot of fun being out there with those young guys out there in my senior year. They have a lot of energy, and they all know how I can shoot. I knew I would get out of my funk. I made some adjustments and it is paying off."

West Virginia plays at 5 p.m. Friday on ESPN against Western Michigan, a 71-68 winner over Virginia Tech. The two teams have never met. That game is the semifinals of the eight-team tournament. Montana will play Tech in the loser's bracket game at 7:30 p.m. Other winners included Arkansas over Southern Illinois, and Marist in an upset over Minnesota.

Note: Bawinkel's brother, Andy, won the halftime three-point shootout, hitting five to a Montana fan's three. He started cold, then drill three consecutive from the top of the key to rally for the win.

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