The 12 3-pointers were right on the Big East-leading season average of 11.2 for the Mountaineers, who had an otherwise pedestrian performance against a Savannah State team that allowed its most points via turnovers this year. West Virginia led by double digits from the eight-minute mark of the first half onward and simply coasted from there via the 3-pointer and its 1-3-1 zone, building leads as large as the 35-point final margin.
Frank Young added 16 points for West Virginia and Alex Ruoff scored 11 and had a game-best four steals. The Mountaineers have won the eight games by a combined 200 points and have a whopping 163 assists against the 94 turnovers, a ratio which leads the Big East. They have led by double digits at the break in five games.
"It's really important to get out of the gates quick with us having such a young team," said Young, who has averaged more than 15 points per game in the last six outings. "It's good to get our confidence up. We really harassed them in the three-zone and got a lot of transition points and deflections. It shows it can really cause problems."
As can the outside shooting. West Virginia hit three consecutive 3-pointers for a 28-10 edge with 5:32 remaining, effectively ending the game at the point. Alexander, who tied a career-high set earlier this season against Montana, chased that spurt – part of a 12-2 run – with 10 of the final 12 Mountaineer points of the half for a 43-24 lead at the break. The 6-8 forward was nearly a foot taller than the guards which tried to defend him on the perimeter. Alexander used that advantage to hit two 3-pointers and a dunk in the push as the Mountaineers (8-1) handed Savannah State (5-9) its ninth consecutive loss after opening the year with five straight wins.
"It was pretty easy to shoot," Alexander said. "They could not get a hand in my face. One shot, the guy was right on me, but was just too small."
The Tigers, which have won just seven games in the last four years, had reached 20 turnovers with more than nine minutes left in the game and was within four of its season-worst 30 in a win over Jacksonville. WVU has now forced 205 turnovers this season – an average of 22.8 per game – and committed just 94, the third-fewest in the nation.
"Everyone knows defense leads to offense," said Ruoff, who had hit 14 of his last 20 3-pointers. "We strive to get defensive deflections. They don't keep it in the stats, but we would have a lot if they did."
A deflection led to one of Young's consecutive 3-pointers after backup point guard Joe Mazzulla drilled a shot from behind the arc with 7:46 left in the first half. That three-in-a-row 3-point run turned a single-digit lead into the 28-10 edge. Savannah State never got closer than 14 points afterward and lost for the 102nd time in 110 tries against a Division I foe since moving up to that level in 2002. Josh Obiajunwa scored nine points to lead Savannah State, while Javon Randolph, who averaged 16.7 points per game entering, tallied a season-low four.
"Our guys never picked up on the 1-3-1 zone," Savannah State coach Horace Broadnax said. "They got some real big, long guys that accommodate that zone. They got their hands on the ball and scored some easy points. We could never make it interesting."
Wellington Smith put an exclamation on the win with a two-handed dunk off a missed shot in which the true freshman caught the carom in midair before finishing. That gave West Virginia a 72-38 lead with 3:45 left. The 34 points were the second-most Savannah State had trailed by the season behind the 51-point second half deficit in the loss at Illinois. WVU extended the edge to a game-high 76-41 when Jamie Smalligan hit a foul shot with one minute left for the final margin.
"I am proud to get the win, though it got a little lopsided in the second half," said fifth-year coach John Beilein, now 18-0 in December home games at WVU. "Every game we have continues to be a learning experience."
In West Virginia's eight wins, foes are averaging just 48 points per game. The Mountaineers, who made 10-plus 3-pointers for the sixth time this season, ranks fourth in the nation in scoring defense at just more than 50 points per game. It averages two more 3-pointers per game than any other Big East team.
West Virginia plays its next five games at home after going nearly one month without a game at the Coliseum. The next two are against The Citadel and Maryland-Eastern Shore. The Mountaineers are expected to win both, which could setup an ESPN2-televised match-up against Connecticut, which would pit a potential 11-0 record versus WVU's probable 10-1 start in the Dec. 30 game.